|A stately sycamore between our outdoor classroom and playground.|
A friend once told me that sycamores are easy to recognize because they are the only tree that wears pants. A sycamore's upper limbs are white and appear to be uncovered, and its lower trunk is covered with brown, patchy bark - the sycamore's pants. Sycamore bark consists of three layers: the outer is brown, the middle is greenish and the inner bark is white. Sometimes you can see all three layers together in a camouflage-like pattern. The outer two layers peel off of the upper limbs, leaving bone-like white branches that look spectacular against a blue sky. Scientists aren't sure why the upper bark peels off, but some people think it falls off to prevent vines from being able to grow up into the treetops.
Sycamores tend to grow near water, and since their white branches are visible from a distance, they are useful for finding water if you are ever lost in the forest. Early explorers used them to find water sources across North America, but they used sycamores for lots of other things too. Sycamores are very fast-growing, so they produce a lot of wood. Though sycamore wood is twisty, it is extremely strong and light, and Native Americans and settlers both used it to make just about everything you can make out of wood. Before North American forests were logged, most forests contained trees that were a lot older, therefore they were bigger than trees we have now. Old sycamores tend to be shockingly enormous compared to other trees, and they are often hollow (here's a medium-sized one, and possibly the world's largest), so sometimes they were used by people as a shelter or to corral animals.
|A drift of sycamore seeds and a few pieces of fallen sycamore bark.|
|A sycamore seed ball with a few seeds falling out.|
|A lightly-crushed sycamore seed ball.|
|A fully-crushed seed ball.|