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About The Cover
Sycamore tree at Wheeler Gorge
Our sycamore leaf...

Sycamore tree at Wheeler Gorge

...from our favorite sycamore tree, overhanging the stream at Wheeler Gorge campground.
Images and research
by Ann Zumwinkle

Sycamore tree at Wheeler Gorge

About the Cover

This sycamore leaf was found at Wheeler Gorge campground. Wheeler Gorge is a large beautiful family campground along the Matilija Creek just above Ojai, California (view a map of the area).

SycamoreCalifornia Sycamore Platanus racemosa
The California sycamore ranges from Baja northwards to the Sacramento Valley and up into the Sierra Nevada foothills. In the United States there are three species of Platanus; P. occidentalis, P. wrightii, and P. racemosa. The latter two are found in the southwestern U.S. and are closely related. Their close relationship indicates that they separated relatively recently when expanding deserts separated a once continuous woodlands that stretched from Arizona to California during Earth's Miocene era.

The California sycamore is long-lived and grows up to 100 feet tall. The tree usually has multiple trunks that can be up to five feet in diameter. These trunks are often reclining and resting along the ground. The sycamore is an overstory/canopy species that is deciduous. It reproduces through its wind-pollinated flowers and wind-dispersed fruits (achenes) that can be carried for very long distances. A California sycamore's presence attests to the perennial abundance of near-surface water. It is an obligate phreatophyte, meaning the tree needs access to ground water within the root zone. If traveling along the intermittent streams of the southern coast ranges and southern California, you would notice that California sycamore is a dominant tree of these areas. It forms open woodlands along the terraces. In California's northern parts however, its dominance diminishes.

A Sycamore is a one-tree bird garden and butterfly garden; hummingbirds and butterflies use sycamores extensively. It is a food plant for the Western Tiger Swallowtail.

The white bark with the chips of brown spotted here and there make for a beautiful trunk. Notice there is not much growing under many sycamores in the wild? Many gardeners use sycamore wood chips for mulch because they reduce plant growth.

Early History of the Plane Tree
The plane-tree of Greek, Roman, and Hebrew legends was called Platanus. Botanically, this plane-tree is known as Platanus orientalis Linnaeus. The meaning of its ancient name is lost. In The Herbal (1633 ed.), John Gerard wrote, "The Plane is a great tree, having very long and far spreading boughs casting a wonderful broad shadow...highly commended and esteemed among the old beareth his name of the breadth." But Gray's Manual of Botany (1950) offers "The ancient name, from the Greek plays, broad, apparently referring to the large leaves."

Legend says that Plato's class used to meet under the boughs of a plane tree and that Hippocrates II (Fifth Century BCE) taught medicine under a wide plane-tree on the island of Kos in the Mediterranean. Pliny the Elder recorded a famous plane-tree that grew in the walks at the Academy of Athens.

Left: The sycamore's dry fruits (achenes) contain its seeds (on the right), which fall to the ground in winter.

Another plane-tree is connected with the Emperor Gaius Caligula, who on an estate at Velitrae was impressed by the 'flooring' of a single plane-tree and the horizontal branches serving as seats; he held a banquet in the tree, the leaves provided partial awning in a dining room spacious enough to hold fifteen guests and the servants. Caligula called this dining-room his 'eyrie'." (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book XII, pre-79 CE, trans. John F. Healy)

Images from the Berkeley Digital Library Project

Plant identification from CSUPomona

Stories of a famous Sycamore

A Champion Sycamore

Sycamore in winterReferences:
Katibeh, Edwin F. 1981. A brief history of riparian forests in the central valley of California and Shanfield, Allan N. 1981. Alder, cottonwood, and sycamore distribution and regeneration along the Nacimiento River, California. In, California Riparian Ecosystems: Ecology, Productivity, and Productive Management. Warner, R.E. and K.M. Hendricks. University of California Press, Berkeley. 1981.

Send us your images!
If you have a California-based natural item or favorite location you'd like us to spotlight on our cover, please send an email to discuss organization of educational content.

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This page updated 9/1/03

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