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California SycamorePlatanus racemosa

  • Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra
  • California Sycamore
  • California Sycamore
  • California Sycamore
  • California Sycamore
The California sycamore is large, tall tree with a fast growth rate. In youth it has a pyramidal and upright habit. With age it develops a spreading, irregular, oval or rounded crown of heavy, large-diameter branches. It typically has a single trunk which can be massive in older trees, but it may have multiple trunks. The large, thick green leaves have 3-5 deep lobes with little or slight yellow color change in the fall. The fruits are hairy, brown seed balls about 1" diameter that hang in groups of 2-7. At the base of the trunk, the bark is thick, rough and furrowed, dark gray or brown. Above, it is thin, smooth, ashy white, and flakes or peels off to show mottled colors of white, tan, and brown. The California sycamore tolerates many soil textures including acidic, alkaline, compacted, and wet. It has only moderate tolerance to salt and drought when well established. It grows best in moist soils that do not dry out. Dry soil can lead to a short life for this native riparian tree. The sycamore's potentially enormous size makes it best suited for large-scale landscapes. It has an aggressive root system. At least 12 feet (preferably more) should be allowed between the sidewalk and curb when planting as a street tree. Size, fruit, dense branching, roots, and moisture requirement all need be considered when planting this tree.

Hardiness Zones

The california sycamore can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 7–10. View Map

Tree Type

This tree is considered both a shade tree and an ornamental tree. It features a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight and adds visual interest and beauty to landscaping.

Mature Size

The California sycamore grows to a height of 40–100' and a spread of 40–70' at maturity.

Growth Speed Fast Growth Rate

This tree grows at a fast rate, with height increases of more than 24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun is the ideal condition for this tree, meaning it should get at least six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The California sycamore grows in acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. It is moderately drought-tolerant once well-established.

Attributes

This tree:
  • Develops a massive trunk with ashy white bark that peels off to reveal mottled colors of white, tan and brown.
  • Features large, leathery leaves that are 6–12" wide with 3–5 lobes and deep green coloring.
  • Produces tiny green flowers in dense, round heads in the spring.
  • Yields hairy, dry, soft brown balls that are ¾–1¼" in diameter hanging in groups of 2–7. Each ball encases a small seed.
  • May develop multiple trunks.
  • Grows in a pyramidal shape in youth, and develops a spreading, irregular, oval or rounded crown of heavy, large-diameter branches with age.
  • Is best-suited for large-scale landscapes.
  • Has an aggressive root system. At least 12 feet (preferably more) should be allowed between the sidewalk and curb when planting as a street tree.

Wildlife Value

The California sycamore provides food and nesting sites for birds including red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers and hummingbirds. It is a food source for the larva of the western tiger swallowtail butterfly.

History/Lore

The California or western sycamore is native along the streams of valleys, foothills and mountains of coastal, central and southern California to Mexico. Trees in the sycamore family are valued for their wood for everything from musical instruments to cutting boards. These trees have been considered sacred by many people throughout ancient history.