The American Sycamore, or Platanus occidentalis

Platanus occidentalis, a colored
plate by Henri-Joseph Redouté in
North American Sylva, published
in 1819
Wikimedia Commons
The American Sycamore, whose botanical name is Platanus occidentalis, has common names that include American Plane, Buttonball, Buttonwood, Eastern Sycamore, Occidental Plane, and Whitewood. It is a deciduous tree, native throughout the Eastern United States and westward into the Central Plains States, and is generally found in moist soil, particularly along streams and lowlands, where they can reach up to 130 feet in height. In planted landscapes, however, they typically reach heights of 75 to 90 feet.

It has a distinctive yellow-white trunk with exfoliating bark, and its palmate leaves measure eight to 12 inches in length and four to eight inches in width.

A colored plate of the American Sycamore’s leaf, flower, seed ball, and seed, drawn by Henri-Joseph Redouté and engraved by Gabriel, appeared in the English edition of North American Sylva, or A Description of the Forest Trees of the United States, Canada and Nova Scotia, published in 1819.

Written by French botanist François Andrew Michaux and translated by Augustus Lucas Hillhouse, it noted that: “Among trees with deciduous leaves, none in the temperate zones, either on the Old or the New Continent, equals the dimensions of the planes. The species which grows in the Western World is not less remarkable for its amplitude and for its magnificent appearance than the Plane of Asia, whose majestic form and extraordinary size were so much appreciated by the ancients.”

The American Sycamore is indeed a beautiful tree, and Riverview Cemetery has a number of specimens on the grounds.

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