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The Sycamore tree

Tree myths. The Sycamore

Sycamores are weeds

Introduced to Britain from Europe sometime during the middle Ages, they spread rapidly and colonised new areas. It has always been reviled by some because of the limited number of species that it can support, as well as it’s ability go grow and so spread quickly, thus blocking out the chances of more native species to prosper. It lets little light through to the forest floor, and its sticky fallen leaves can sometimes make it hard for under story plants to establish themselves.

In some parts of the country it is routinely removed ‘syci-bashing’ in favor of more wildlife friendly trees such as Oak, Ash and Hazel.

Sycamores have value

Sycamores are wonderfully hardy and robust trees, growing in places that would stunt most others. Ted Green terms the sycamore as ‘the Celtic maple’ as it thrives in the wet and wind swept north and west uplands. Sycamore trees posses a shadiness that helped them to quickly become a favorite of parks, avenues, gardens and farms. The autumn is when sycamore trees really stand out. The winged seeds playfully descend to earth like little helicopters and the dark green five-lobed leaves turn a beautiful deep golden color.

Value to wildlife

Sycamore is attractive to aphids and therefore a variety of their predators, such as ladybirds, hoverflies and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sycamore moth, plumed prominent and maple prominent. The flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar to bees and other insects, and birds and small mammals eat the seeds.

Mythology and symbolism

“Under the coole shade of a Siccamore/ I thought to close mine eyes some halfe an houre,” wrote Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1598.
There’s an Egyptian creation myth about sycamore. The goddess Hathor, the Holy Cow, sat in a sycamore at sunset and created the earth, everything living on it, and the sun. A tree of good luck, bad luck and creativity, it is now a part of us. As the little seed drones twizzle through the grey winter air, their keys are tuning the locks of the future. In Wales, sycamore trees were used in the traditional craft of making ‘love spoons’. In some parts of the UK the winged seeds are known as ‘helicopters’, and used in flying competitions and model making by children.

How we use sycamore

Sycamore timber is hard and strong, pale cream and with a fine grain. It is used for making furniture and kitchenware as the wood does not taint or stain the food.
Trees are planted in parks and large gardens for ornamental purposes. Mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind, so are often planted in coastal and exposed areas, as a windbreak. They are also tolerant of pollution and are therefore planted in towns and cities.


Sycamore is susceptible to sooty bark, which can lead to wilting of the crown and death of the tree, as well as a variety of other fungal diseases. It may also be affected by horse chestnut scale insect, which appears as fluffy white spots on the trunk and branches during summer.


The tree is undergoing resurgence as it’s standing as a great British tree. By John Fryer – J F Tree Specialist Ltd.


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