Tree 8: Sycamore
The Acer pseudoplatanus is known as the sycamore in the British Isles where it is now widely naturalised. It may have been introduced to the British Isles by the Romans and it has certainly been here since the 1500s. The earliest reports of the Sycamore naturalising in the UK date from the mid-1800s. Sycamore has spread across the UK, colonising many woodlands, often crowding out native species. It is also widely grown in North America where it is known as the Sycamore Maple.
It is fast growing and can easily reach 30-35m in height with a diameter of 60-80cm and a very broad domed crown whose diameter can sometimes exceed the height of the tree. Its five-lobed leaves have toothed margins and characteristic red stalks. The small green flowers hang in spikes before turning into the distinctive winged fruits that spin as they fall, helicopter-fashion, very effectively spreading the seeds over great distances. Sometimes the leaves are covered with galls, small, red spots, caused by a mite (a small spider-like creature). Aphids tap into the sugar rich leaves and leave behind their sticky honeydew. The aphids are a food source for ladybirds and birds.
The sycamore’s timber is soft but tough and light with an attractive colour, and is used for turnery, furniture making, joinery, indoor flooring and musical instruments.
In Poland, the leaves used to be put in the oven under baking bread, both to prevent it from sticking and to give it a special flavour. They are still used to wrap local cheese in Northern Spain.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare refers to a sycamore grove. Possibly as a result, the sycamore tree is sometimes associated with melancholy lovers, The sycamore is also said to symbolize strength, protection, eternity, and divinity.