OPINION: Save the Sycamores


This is an article sent to me by an arborist friend. Maybe we can convince people that sycamores are not the enemy water sucker people think they are. Save the sycamores. —Julie Doctor, Three Rivers

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By Paula Peper

California native sycamores (Platanus racemosa) growing along stream and river banks provide a multitude of ecosystem services. The sycamore is recognized not only for its size but also the critical ecosystems services that it provides such as food and shelter for wildlife, its water purification abilities, and its role in absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and storing carbon in its wood.

Along with having a favorable fire resistance rating, they tolerate high heat and wind. These trees provide shade that cools the water. The leaves feed aquatic insects and the roots hold soil, stabilizing stream banks.

The California sycamore provides important habit for multiple species. It is a food plant for 11 species of butterflies and moths. It provides food and nesting sites for eagles, red-tailed hawks, hummingbirds, and owls. Its seeds are eaten by goldfinch, chickadees, junco, muskrat, beaver, and squirrels. 

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Interestingly, sycamores are water efficient, having two levels to their root systems. In years of drought, the deeper roots are activated to absorb water and nutrients while during flood years the deep roots go dormant and surface roots activate. As a result, these magnificent trees withstand flood and drought to continue stabilizing stream banks, providing shade, and reducing the effects of winds. Planted in an urban landscape, they are a moderate water user based on the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS IV). 

It is vital to maintain native stands of Platanus racemosa as the introduction of non-native trees is resulting in hybridization of the species to a degree that eventually few pure stands will remain  The California sycamore is the dominant species in California’s endangered sycamore-alluvial woodland habitat.

Paula Peper is an ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service Center for Urban Forest Research, retired.

2 thoughts on “OPINION: Save the Sycamores

  • February 21, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Thanks Julie for sharing this article. Throughout our beautiful Kaweah country there are so many very impressive stands of these iconic ‘California’ trees.

    Water rights are always a topic in dry states such as ours. We cannot deny those who came first their rightful and necessary share.

    Our western sycamores are a bit of an oasis for all in this often harsh climate we share with them, I hope we can always chose to do the right thing by these very special trees..

  • February 22, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    Thanks Paula and Julie for clearing “the name” of these gorgeous natives. We do know they like their feet wet, but good to know the not so greedy as we were taught


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