|A. pseudoplatanus in the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel|
Acer pseudoplatanus, the sycamore or sycamore maple, is a species of maple native to Central Europe and Southwestern Asia, from France eastwards to Ukraine, and south in mountains to northern Spain, northern Turkey and the Caucasus, but cultivated and naturalized elsewhere.
The superficial similarity of the leaves and bark of A. pseudoplatanus to those of plane trees in the genus Platanus led to it being named pseudoplatanus, using the prefix pseudo- (from the Ancient Greek for "false"). However, the genera are not closely related. Acer and Platanus differ in their leaf insertion (alternate in Platanus, paired or opposite in Acer) and in their fruit, which are spherical clusters in Platanus and paired samaras in Acer.
The name "sycamore" originally belongs to the fig species Ficus sycomorus native to southwest Asia (this is the sycamore or sycomore referred to in the Bible). The name was later applied to this species (and others; see also Platanus) by reason of the superficial similarity in leaf shape.
The sycamore maple is a large deciduous tree that reaches 20–35 m (66–115 ft) tall at maturity, with a broad, domed crown. On young trees, the bark is smooth and grey but becomes rougher with age and breaks up in scales, exposing the pale-brown-to-pinkish inner bark. The leaves are opposite, palmately 5-lobed large, 10–25 cm long and broad with a 5–15 cm petiole, with leathery texture and thick veins protruding on the underside surface with toothed edges, and dark green in colour with whitish underside; some cultivars have purple-tinged or yellowish leaves. The leaf-stalk is frequently tinged red. The leaves are often marked with black spots or patches which are caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerinum.
The monoecious yellow-green flowers are produced in spring on 10–20 cm pendulous racemes, with 20–50 flowers on each stalk. The 5–10 mm diameter seeds are paired in samaras, each seed with a 20–40 mm long wing which catches the wind and rotates when they fall; this helps them to spread further from the parent tree. The seeds are mature in autumn about 6 months after pollination.
Ted Green (2005) believes that the sycamore has been present in Britain since at least the Bronze Age citing that sycamore pollen has often been confused with that of Field Maple in Bronze Age and Iron Age burials . He suggests that it should be renamed "Celtic Maple".
The lack of old native names for it has been used to demonstrate its absence in Britain before introduction in around 1487, but this is challenged by the presence of an old Scottish Gaelic name for the tree, fior chrann which suggests a longer presence in Scotland at least as far back as the Gaelic settlement at Dal Riada. This would make it either an archaeophyte (a naturalised tree introduced by humans before 1500) or perhaps native if it can be seen to have reached Scotland without human intervention.
It has been suggested that it could have been common up until Roman times when it went through a decline possibly brought about by climate change and human activities, surviving only in the mountains of Scotland.
Cultivation and uses
It is noted for its tolerance of wind, urban pollution, salt spray, and low summer temperatures, which makes it a popular tree for planting in cities, along roads treated with salt in winter, and in coastal localities. It is cultivated and widely naturalised north of its native range in Northern Europe, notably in the British Isles and Scandinavia north to Tromsø, Norway (seeds can ripen as far north as Vesterålen); Reykjavík, Iceland; and Tórshavn on the Faroe Islands. It now occurs throughout the British Isles, having been introduced in the 17th century.
In North America, escapes from cultivation are most common in New England, New York City and the Pacific Northwest. It is planted in many temperate parts of the Southern Hemisphere, most commonly in New Zealand and on the Falkland Islands.
It is also used as a species for medium to large bonsai, in many areas of Europe where some fine specimens can be found.
The flowers produce abundant nectar, which makes a fragrant, delicately flavoured and pale-coloured honey.
It is planted for timber production; the wood is white with a silky lustre, and hard-wearing, used for musical instrument making, furniture, wood flooring and parquetry. Occasional trees produce wood with a wavy grain, greatly increasing the value for decorative veneers. The wood is a medium weight for a hardwood, weighing 630 kg per cubic metre. It is a traditional wood for use in making the backs, necks and scrolls of violins. The wood is often marketed as rippled sycamore. Its uses are mainly indoor due to its perishability when in contact with soil.
Acer pseudoplatanus is considered an environmental weed in some parts of Australia (Yarra Ranges, Victoria), and also Mount Macedon, near Daylesford, parts of the Dandenongs and Tasmania where it is naturalised in the eucalypt forests.
In the English Christmas carol, "Wassail, Wassail All Over the Town", the "white maple" in "Our bowl, it is made of the white maple tree" refers not to the silver (white) maple, but the wood of the sycamore maple.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Tree
Under this sycamore tree at Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, six agricultural labourers, known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, formed an early trades union in 1834. They were found to have breached the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 and were transported to Australia. The subsequent public outcry led to their release and return. The tree now has a girth of 5.9 metres (19 feet, 4 inches) and a 2005 study dated the tree to 1680. The tree is cared for by the National Trust, who have pollarded the tree in 2002 and 2014.
The Corstorphine Sycamore Tree
An ancient sycamore (sometimes described as a "plane") formerly stood in the village of Corstorphine, now a suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland. The tree gave its name to a subspecies, Acer pseudoplatanus Corstorphinensis with distinctive yellow foliage, and was reputedly planted in the 15th century. Not only was it claimed to be the "largest sycamore in Scotland", but it was also the scene of the murder of Lord James Forrester in 1679. The tree was blown down in a storm on Boxing Day 1998, but a replacement, grown from a cutting, now stands in the churchyard of Corstorphine Kirk.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Acer pseudoplatanus.|
- Acer pseudoplatanus page at the University of Connecticut
- Watch more sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) video clips from the BBC archive on Wildlife Finder
- Acer pseudoplatanus at the Encyclopedia of Life
- Eichhorn, Markus (January 2011). "Everybody hates sycamores?". Test Tube. Brady Haran for the University of Nottingham.