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Acer pseudoplatanus

Acer pseudoplatanus
A. pseudoplatanus in the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Sapindaceae[1]
Genus: Acer
Species: A. pseudoplatanus
Binomial name
Acer pseudoplatanus
  • Acer abchasicum Rupr.
  • Acer atropurpureum Dippel
  • Acer bohemicum C.Presl ex Opiz.
  • Acer dittrichii Ortm.
  • Acer erythrocarpum Dippel
  • Acer euchlorum Dippel
  • Acer fieberi Opiz
  • Acer hybridum Bosc
  • Acer majus Gray
  • Acer melliodorum Opiz
  • Acer montanum Garsault
  • Acer opizii Ortmann ex Opiz.
  • Acer opulifolium Thuill.
  • Acer procerum Salisb.
  • Acer purpureum Dippel
  • Acer quinquelobum Gilib.
  • Acer rafinesquianum Dippel
  • Acer villosum C. Presl
  • Acer wondracekii Opiz
  • Acer worleei Dippel
A. pseudoplatanus leaves
Acer pseudoplatanus Samara (fruit)

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.[2][3]


  • Names 1
  • Description 2
  • Ecology 3
  • History 4
  • Cultivation and uses 5
    • Wood 5.1
  • Invasive species 6
  • Cultural references 7
  • Notable specimens 8
    • The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Tree 8.1
    • The Corstorphine Sycamore Tree 8.2
  • References 9
  • External links 10


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 two genera are only distantly 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.

Other common names for the tree include false plane-tree,[4] great maple,[4] Scottish maple,[4] mock-plane,[5][6] sycamore,[4][6] or Celtic maple.[7]


Terminal buds

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.[8]

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.[3][9]

The sycamore is able to produce suckers from roots when they are exposed to sunlight after the mature tree has fallen.


A number of species of Lepidoptera use the leaves as a food source; see Lepidoptera that feed on maples.


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.

At the moment it is usually classified as a neophyte, a plant that is naturalised but arrived with humans on or after the year 1500.[7]

Cultivation and uses

Sycamore maple bark on a mature tree

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.[10]

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.[11]

The popular cultivar 'Brilliantissimum' is notable for the bright salmon-pink colour of the young foliage. This cultivar has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[12]

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.[13] It is a traditional wood for use in making the backs, necks and scrolls of violins. The wood is often marketed as rippled sycamore.[14] Its uses are mainly indoor due to its perishability when in contact with soil.[13]

Invasive species

Acer pseudoplatanus is considered an environmental weed in some parts of Australia (Yarra Ranges, Victoria),[15] and also Mount Macedon, near Daylesford, parts of the Dandenongs and Tasmania where it is naturalised in the eucalypt forests.[16]

It is also considered to be invasive in New Zealand,[17] Norway,[18] and environmentally sensitive locations in the UK.[19]

The United States Department of Agriculture considers it invasive,[20] as does the State of New York.[21]

Cultural references

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.

Notable specimens

The Martyrs' Tree, a sycamore at Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, is regarded by some as the birthplace of the British trades union movement.

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.[22] The tree now has a girth of 5.9 metres (19 feet, 4 inches)[23] and a 2005 study dated the tree to 1680.[24] The tree is cared for by the National Trust, who have pollarded the tree in 2002 and 2014.[25]

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", it was also the scene of James Lord Forrester's murder in 1679.[26] 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.[27]


  1. ^ Stevens, P. F. (2001 onwards). Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 9, June 2008 [and more or less continuously updated since].
  2. ^ Flora Europaea: Acer pseudoplatanus
  3. ^ a b Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  4. ^ a b c d Acer pseudoplatanusUSDA GRIN entry for
  5. ^ Acer pseudoplatanusTropicos entry for
  6. ^ a b Bailey, L.H.; Bailey, E.Z.; the staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium (1976). Hortus third: A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan. 
  7. ^ a b Milner, Edward (2011). "Trees of Britain and Ireland". Flora: 134. 
  8. ^ "Garden Centre – The Sycamore". 
  9. ^ Humphries, C. J., Press, J. R., & Sutton, D. A. (1992). Trees of Britain and Europe. Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 0-600-57511-X.
  10. ^ Preston, Pearman & Dines. (2002). New Atlas of the British Flora. Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ D'Cruz, Mark. "Ma-Ke Bonsai Care Guide for Acer pseudoplatanus". Ma-Ke Bonsai. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-05. 
  12. ^ "' 'BrilliantissimumAcer pseudoplatanus"RHS Plant Selector – . Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Sycamore. Niche Timbers. Accessed 19-08-2009.
  14. ^ Acer pseudoplatanusAssociation of Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers (ASHS): Sycamore –
  15. ^ Environmental weeds
  16. ^
  17. ^ Howell, Clayston (May 2008). Consolidated list of environmental weeds in New Zealand. 292. Wellington, NZ.: Department of Conservation.  
  18. ^ Sycamore maple invasive species in Norway
  19. ^ "Eco Tree Care & Conservation – Woodland Management, Firewood Logs, Consultancy, Tree Surgery, Tree Surgeons and Conservation in Hertfordshire & Essex". Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  20. ^ "Acer pseudoplatanus".  
  21. ^ "Interim List of Invasive Plant Species in New York State". Advisory Invasive Plant List. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  22. ^ "The Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree". The Woodland Trust. 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  23. ^ "Sycamore at SY78959444". The Woodland Trust. 10 July 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  24. ^ "Tolpuddle tree dated back to 1680". BBC News. 14 July 2005. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  25. ^ "Tolpuddle Martyrs village tree pruning carried out". BBC News. 7 November 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Cowper, A S; Aitchison, K (2001). "The Corstorphine Sycamore Tree". The Corstorphine Trust. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  27. ^ Hendrie, James (2010). "Capital Trees" (PDF). The Forestry Journal. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 

External links

  • pageAcer pseudoplatanus at the University of Connecticut
  • Watch more sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) video clips from the BBC archive on Wildlife Finder
  • Video of the notable Auchenskeith Sycamore in Ayrshire.
  • Acer pseudoplatanus at the Encyclopedia of Life
  • Eichhorn, Markus (January 2011). "Everybody hates sycamores?". Test Tube.  
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