Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Glorious Arizona Sycamore

During my earlier sojourns in Arizona, I was totally unaware of the beautiful sycamore trees native to the state. I may have heard of Sycamore Canyon, but that would have been mere words at the time. After all, I was college-age young and had more important matters on my mind, such as becoming a famous journalist and saving the world. Whatever.

Since moving to Prescott, I've lived next to sycamores and come to admire them. For their shade (above, in front of Lincoln School), for their sometimes immense size (along Oak Creek and Beaver Creek, for example), and for their color in all seasons. If any overseas readers are a tad confused at this point, the answer is that, yes, our sycamores are close cousins to the popular London plane tree, which is a hybrid of Asiatic and North American species. Except that ours grow wild.

Apparently Prescott is just a tad too altitudinous for the sycamore, which prospers with permanent water sources even at very low desert levels. I have read that, for all the emphasis on "cottonwood-willow associations" along the Salt River in Phoenix, the river banks were also once home to great stands of sycamore. The trees are found along the Verde and its tributaries; in fact, if you take a close look at the flora of Oak Creek, you'll discover that the most striking trees are the sycamore, not the oak for which it is named.

One of the notable features of the sycamore is the bark, which is nearly white in winter. The bark does darken in the spring and, as the trunk expands, it sloughs off bark, leaving lighter colored patches.

In the winter, our sycamores stand ghostly with their smooth white limbs. Unlike most trees, our planes spread their skin-like bark right over wounds from cut limbs (below).

In spring, the current year's crop of seed balls grow even as the trees leaf out.

In winter, the seed balls remain. If what I have read on the Internet is correct, the tree above with many pods attached to one another is likely a hybrid plane tree from the nursery.

Perhaps logically enough for a tree that inhabits steam sides, the sycamore spreads long shallow roots, creating a problem when it is used to shade sidewalks, as along Gurley at the Sharlot Hall grounds. The treelet below makes a valiant effort each year to emerge from the remains of a very large tree that was causing the sidewalk to buckle (look at the lower right of the picture). Probably at the advice of the lawyers, the tree was cut down. I say hurrah for the life force that keeps bringing the leaves back.

In the fall, our sycamores are among the showier of trees -- and furnish a fine, crunchy lot of leaves to kick through on a crisp autumn day.


Anonymous said...

GJ, I enjoyed the narrative and the photos. Excellent post.

Antipodean Curmudgeon said...

Your sycamores and my eucalyptus' have much in commom excepting that mine is not a leaf dropper.

Most Eus shed copiouc quantities of bark leaving slick surfaces.

Their bloody roots are all over the place, although many also have deep taps.

After blooming, an assorted variety of seed pods, mainly 'nuts' with enclosed seeds, are displayed.

And birds love em


Anonymous said...

I seem to remember some signs on the trees along Gurley Street in front of the Sharlot Hall Museum grounds identifying them as Plane Trees. Somewhere near Fort Misery and the Ranch House (but outside the new fence, I guess.) Next time you stroll by, maybe you could check it out.

Catalyst said...

Excellent job, Julie.

Jean said...

Some lovely pics. We have lots of sycamores here, especially out around Dekalb and Sycamore, IL We've got several streets here in Evanston lined with them and always a beautiful sight in fall as you pointed out. But slow to leaf out in spring, along with the catalpa, the last to green up. Thanks for the pics.

Granny J said...

steve -- there's always one more picture of a sycamore to be taken!

bro -- you are reminding me of the eucalypts that lined the drive at Grandpa M's place in Riverside. I recall both the peeling bark -- and the medicinal smell of the funny nuts/cones/whatever you call the hard little fruits.

anon -- I'll check it out. Wouldn't be surprised if those trees were plane trees -- they arn't shedding their bark like the trees up on Park Avenue.

cat-A -- I thank you kindly.

jean -- I recall the sycamores in the boggy swales between the dunes over at the Indiana/Michigan end of Lake Michigan. Those were tall, thin trees as AWW photographed them, not the robust sycamores I've seen along streams here, with boles maybe 5 feet in diameter and canopies at least as wide as the trees are tall.

Minot said...

I love the picture of the branch and seed balls against the background of the mellow bricks.

azlaydey said...

I too love sycamore trees. The one I have in my yard causes consternation to my visitors that have to duck under the branches by the walkway, but the birds love the water I have dripping into a birdbath under its shady limbs.

Granny J said...

minot -- that one worked out very well. The bricks are at the Lincoln School.

Lady -- I'll just bet that they do! Our sycamores are such great shade trees. I tried to grow one once on my hillside, but poor thing didn't get enough water.

Arati said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. I am including a link to this in the 38th festival of the trees. Do swing by and take a look!

Karen said...

Wonderful! I love the seed balls. And I'm so fascinated by white trees!

Granny J said...

arati -- I'm looking forward to the new Festival of the Trees...

karen -- our sycamores are truly beauties! And I'm sure nobody thinks of Arizona as a place of sycamores, butthey are found along desert streams.

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