Native Trees: American Sycamore


North America’s trees were considered one of its greatest treasures both by European colonists like John Bartram and his son William, and by European gardeners eagerly awaiting shipments of seed from ‘the colonies.’

Our many varieties of conifers and hardwood are as beautiful as they are useful.  North American trees were planted extensively in European gardens soon after Jamestown was settled.  The early colonists were always on the lookout for ‘useful plants’ to send back home.

These same prized trees still grow wild here in Virginia, today.


The American Sycamore grows on the bank of Jones Millpond in York County, Virginia


One of my favorite native American trees is the American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis.   Also called ‘bottonwood tree,’ named for its round fruits which persist through winter, the sycamore may also be called an American plane tree.

I particularly like this tree’s mottled, light colored bark, and its beautiful branching form.



The sycamore prefers moist soil and can often be found in the wild in lowlands and near bodies of water. Yet it will grow in many different environments in Zones 4-9.  It’s native range extends from Florida, north into Canada, and westwards into Texas and Oklahoma.  It is also considered a native tree in Oregon.

The sycamore will quickly grow into a massive shade tree, with a thick trunk (to more than 6 feet in diameter), a broad canopy, and a mature height of over 130 feet.  Its extensive roots can damage nearby walls or sidewalks, yet it is a common street tree in cities.  A sycamore can handle the heat and polluted air of urban areas, where it is enjoyed for its beauty and its shade.  Its dense canopy helps filter the air.


This Sycamore grows on the banks of the James River near Jamestown Island.


I enjoy visiting this lovely sycamore growing on the bank of Jones Millpond, alone the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown throughout the year.  It is pleasing in all seasons.



There are several notable sycamore trees in our area.  Their interesting branches and bright bark make them easy to recognize.  In winter, the seedpods hanging from their branches playfully sway in the wind.



A sycamore tree’s wood is useful for making things, but it isn’t a preferred wood for furniture making.  It doesn’t produce edible nuts or leaves.

It is valued more as a beautiful landscape tree and for the shade it gives in summer.


The distinctive leaves and bark help identify this tree as a Platanus


The sycamore ranks high among my favorite native American trees.



Woodland Gnome 2018

Even when pruned hard in a style called pollarding, the Platanus is easily recognized by its light colored bark. This tree grows in Colonial Williamsburg.

Green Man

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Jack, the Verdant One,

Re-born in earliest spring

From winter’s slumber.

Light, warmth, wind and water

Call you back into being.


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Your face is everywhere:

Visible in every leafy bough,

Twining vine

And moss covered root.


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Eternal Green Man-

Virile spirit,

Fertile source of all abundance;

Breathe your inspiration

Into our hearts.


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May your endless enthusiasm

And transcendent joy

Sustain us on your sylvan paths,

As you nourished all those

Who came before us.


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Woodland Gnome 2015


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Winter Sun

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Winter sun:

Blue returned to frosty sky,


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Glinting off garden’s evergreens,

Warmth pouring through the windows

Taunting us outside.


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The birds reappeared at sunrise,

Gliding tree to tree,

Breaking their fast on fat frozen berries.


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Calling and chattering they praised the fine day,

Glad to have stayed here awhile,

Glad for sun warming feet and feathers.



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Winter’s wind still blows so cold

Despite sun’s optimistic shininess.



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We raced the sun today;

Its trek from horizon to horizon so low and quick.

Its golden light so brief before night settled once again.

We savored each hour like good chocolate.


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Setting again by only mid-afternoon.

Gilding the trees in gold,


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Transforming the forest to a tapestry of bright and shadow.


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Glinting off water,


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Dyeing the sky bright yellow, pink, and orange.


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Briefly blazing before bowing down again

Below the rim of the world;


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Leaving gathering purple darkness in its wake;

Moon still not risen,

Stars glimmering like ice crystals in a frozen sky,

Cold blows in from the river.


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A damp blanket of darkness descends into the garden.

Light and warmth retreat inside.

We twist on electric candle flames in each window,

Tiny golden lights against the night.


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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014





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A messy season, fall, when you think of it. 

“Fall,” of course, refers to the countless leaves browning and blowing from every limb of every deciduous shrub and tree.


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The autumn winds sweep away every bit of what is tired, worn, and dying.

Of course, those same winds also pick up the downy seeds released by wildflowers.


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They catch the seed filled pine cones and scatter them far from the mother tree.


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Berries, seed pods, nuts and acorns all take flight on the wind, perhaps landing where they can thrust roots into moist and accepting soil, and grow.


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Like  monks sweeping away a completed Tibetan sand painting, nature has a hand in her own dissolution. 


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Vibrant greens gradually fade to reveal the essential golds and purples, scarlets and orange of the forest.

Then even these colors fade to brown and take flight, leaving only the structure of things behind.


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Bare branches glow beneath their accumulations of lichen and moss, vines and animal nests;  scars of lost branches and broken limbs revealed.


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And it is still beautiful.

All of the essential parts remain. 


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Wind and rain, insects and worms work their magic all winter long, transforming all that has fallen to the Earth into the rich medium of life.


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Dissolution, cleansing, transformation.

Stillness and rest.


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Making way for new growth.



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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014


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In Search of Silver….


The exfoliating bark of this favorite Sycamore tree caught my eye along the way in search of silver...

The exfoliating bark of this favorite Sycamore tree caught my eye along the way in search of silver…

Jennifer issued her challenge for photos of silver a week ago tomorrow; yet I still hadn’t found any “silver” photos to craft a post.

It has been a topsy-turvy week; lots of travel, lots of drama.


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And very little time for the pleasant photo hunting we usually enjoy…

Begonia, "Sophie"

Begonia, “Sophie”


I was about to make do with the slim response of a shot of Begonia, “Sophie” with her silver marked leaves, but this morning was one where there was no time to post even this single photo.


Another crop of this B. "Sophie" photo.

Another crop of this B. “Sophie” photo.


And so after lunch, my partner suggested we take a bit of time to relax and head out on a drive.

Finally, an opportunity to search for “Silver.”

Granite shoring up the river's edge.  Do you see the spider's web?

Granite shoring up the river’s edge. Do you see the spider’s web?


Have you noticed that once you set your mind to search for something, it nearly always turns up?

We had just pulled over on the causeway between Sandy Bay and the James River when the beautiful Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, caught me eye.


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Yes!  Silver bark!


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Not particularly metallic, perhaps, but a beautiful rich and shiny grey at the least.

I snapped a few photos, and as I worked around the tree, the glinting silver rocks shoring up the bank of the river caught my eye.

These huge chunks of granite certainly looked silvery in the early afternoon sun.


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Perhaps it is another of my oddities, but I find stone astoundingly beautiful.

I enjoy the color, texture, form, and antiquity of rock.

Especially when rock is host to vines or small trees, it always catches my attention.


Cypress trees growing in Sandy Bay, beside Jamestown Island.

Cypress trees growing in Sandy Bay, beside Jamestown Island.


And then, looking across the water, the sculptural forms of ancient and wind polished Cypress trees shone in the sun.

Silvery?  What do you think?  Close enough?


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Not yet stumps, these trees were green cloaked a season or so ago.

I’ve never figured out what makes these beautiful and long-lived trees die so suddenly, standing among those still living.

A mystery, but a beautiful one.


Bath time?

So much life and living in the world today!

Birds and dragonflies; finally some butterflies; flowers blooming; berries ripening; wind blowing grasses and leaves.

We had plenty of company on the park roads today, too.

This little dragonfly waited patiently on the curb at one of our stops.  I wondered why he was still there as we left.  Do you see his torn wing?  Such a beautiful creature, and larger than a hummingbird.

This little dragonfly waited patiently on the curb at one of our stops. I wondered why he was still there as we left. Do you see his torn wing? Such a beautiful creature, and as large as a hummingbird.

With a rising tide, the crabs and turtles living in the marshes  lurked out of sight.

The Eagles must have sought shelter in the shade,  too, because they weren’t to be seen on their nests and favorite perches.

But we know they are just waiting for the cool of evening to fish for their dinner.


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We returned refreshed and relaxed.

And with a small cache of photos, now I can finally give you, “Silver.”


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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One Word Photo Challenge: Silver



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