Other Top 20 Trees

Top Twenty Shade Trees for San Antonio!
Custom Plant Information by Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist- Helotes, Texas

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"Top Twenty" #17
 American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
You have come to a great tree in your search! We at Wilson's hope that you find this plant information to be helpful and interesting. Let us know if we can help you further as you search for that special tree. Our information is based upon decades of loving trees, learning about trees, growing trees, maintaining trees, talking about trees, selling trees. planting trees, watching trees grow, enjoying the beauty of trees and being grateful to God for creating trees!

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 2:9; 1:12)

Strengths and Weaknesses Listed

 All trees have weaknesses and strengths. In order to thoroughly evaluate a tree, you should consider both. Let me begin by offering some strengths of American Sycamore and then I will describe some weaknesses. You will be happy to discover that this trees strengths overcome its weaknesses! In fact, from our viewpoint, American Sycamore is worthy of our "Top Twenty" list!  Perhaps it will become your number #1 choice.

Strength: Our Beautiful American Sycamore
 One of the prettiest sights in the Hill Country is to see our native creeks dotted with groves of Sycamore trees. These trees are technically called “American” Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis var. palmeri).  You can  see many fine examples of American Sycamore trees growing throughout San Antonio,  South-Central Texas,  and  most of the entire country as well.

Platanus occidentalis var. palmeri

The San Antonio and Hill Country area is a dividing line for  American Sycamore varieties.   The Sycamore trees growing in the Hill Country west of Interstate 35,  on our Hill Country rivers and creeks,  have subtle differences in leaf shape than those of its close cousin east of Interstate 35.  So, in general,  the Sycamore trees of the Hill Country are called Platanus occidentalis variety palmeri.  The Sycamore trees generally  east of Interstate 35 are called Platanus occidentalis var. occidentalis. A similar division is made with  the Texas Red Oak. East of Interstate 35 Texas Red Oak is known as Quercus shumardii, but west of Interstate 35, in the Hill Country, the Texas Red Oak is known as Quercus buckleyi. The Hill Country soil and conditions have a way of causing distinct variations in very similar species.  The San Antonio area is caught in the middle and so both varieties of Sycamores and Red Oaks are found growing here.  In spite of the subtle  differences in the Sycamore varieties mentioned, the two varieties look very much alike in most ways.

Strength: Beautiful Large Cooling Leaves:

This tree has beautiful large leaves. Along with its cousin Mexican Sycamore,  it has the largest leaves of any quality shade tree on our market today.  These large leaves provide a nice cooling effect. South-Central Texas gets hot and some of our landscape features seem to make it look even hotter, like a yard filled with rock and cactus in the blazing sun! But an American Sycamore makes it look cooler and actually provides cooling shade from the hot summer sun. 

Strength:  A Golden Hue
 As sunlight  passes through the  American Sycamore leaf , the sun's golden rays shine through.  This creates a golden hue that looks attractive and healthy. This translucency also brightens its fall foliage. 

Strength: Whitish Leaf Underside on New Growth

Although it is American Sycamore's cousin, Mexican Sycamore, that is known for its distinctive whitish leaf underside, the American Sycamore also has some this same coloring, especially on its new growth. This underside color is caused by fine, short, woolly, downy, cotton like hairs that cover the backside of the leaf surface.  When the wind blows  this whitish leaf underside shows more which is attractive.


Strength: Brightens Up A Dark Native Landscape
American Sycamore's bright green leaves  brighten up a dark native landscape filled with the darker green leaves of Live Oaks, Cedars (Ashe junipers) and Cedar Elms. When looking at a native tree canopy, you can certainly appreciate the nice visual contrast the American Sycamore gives. In addition to the leaves, the tanish to white mottled bark peels away as the tree grows revealing even whiter bark underneath.  The trunk appearance gives the same effect as that of a Birch tree in New England or an Aspen in Colorado or a Crepe Myrtle throughout South-Central Texas. American Sycamore bark is noticeably white. The lighter bark of American Sycamore contrasts nicely with the dark bark of Live Oaks, Monterrey Oaks and Cedar Elms and so brightens up our dark-trunked native landscapes as well.

Strength: Great Large Shade Tree:

These trees can grow very large exceeding 100' feet tall.  In the shallow soils of the Hill Country trees will exceed fifty feet with a wide spread as well.

Strength: Fast Growing:

Of the "Top Twenty" shade trees American Sycamore is the fastest grower along with Mexican Sycamore and Cottonwood.  A growth rate of five feet per year is not unusual. Compared to other quality shade trees, its growth rate is about one third to twice as fast, during the first five years, as other quality trees, such as Monterrey Oaks and Texas Red Oaks which are moderately fast growers as well. It may be the fastest way to beautify a new yard, commercial property, or neighborhood. 

 Strength: Pleasant Smell
Have you ever walked through a grove of Sycamore trees and noticed the sweet pleasant smell. It is a smell that is hard to describe because it is unique. It is a smell reminiscent of pleasant shady places along rivers and creeks. 

Strength: One of Our Best Fall Foliage Trees!

Here is an area where American Sycamore excels. Few trees give us large leaves that turn pretty colors in the fall.   American Sycamore is a great tree for fall foliage, especially for the Hill Country.  Sometimes I have been disappointed  with the color display of Bigtooth Maples which I still love. But American Sycamore, Texas Red Oak and Texas Ash are more reliable for fall color. In addition, with Sycamore, you get the very large leaves. Sycamore leaves are often described as looking like "giant maple tree leaves."

Strength: Drought Tolerant
The American Sycamore is a tough survivor and surprisingly drought tolerant. Even though  it grows naturally along rivers and streams, it is still well-adapted to upland sights. During severe summer droughts, when it hardly rains for two months, the American Sycamores will drop some leaves and not look as awesome.  However, established trees should survive and return to being attractive when rains returns .

Strength: American Sycamore As Drought Tolerant As Mexican Sycamore
Keep in mind that the Sycamore trees native to South-Central Texas are called American Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) not Mexican Sycamores (Platanus mexicana; rzedowskii) However, the two are very close cousins and so look alike in many ways. But as was the case with the “over- marketing” of the drought tolerance of certain turf grasses, so goes the Mexican Sycamore's marketing story as well. Many professionals are excited about the drought tolerance of Mexican Sycamore and have marketed it as being superior to our native American Sycamore.  The fact is that American Sycamore and Mexican Sycamore are about equally as drought tolerant and surprisingly quite drought tolerant at that. Drought tolerance is really not a weakness of American Sycamore when compared with Mexican Sycamore. Along these lines the drought superiority of Mexican Sycamore over our Texas-native American Sycamore has been overstated. Even though both of these trees grow naturally along waterways,  they both do well in residential and commercial settings in terms of drought tolerance.  They both win in this category.

Strength:  Native to Texas
Many of us agree that we need to plant Texas native trees. Consider that the Mexican Sycamore is not technically native to Texas.  We do have a great Sycamore tree that is native to Texas that we should be planting more. It is called American Sycamore! Now, along with  its cousin the Mexican Sycamore, we have two great trees to plant.  We can have the best of both worlds!

 Strength: Sycamore Problems Not A Big Problem Here
Our native Sycamore has been underused because of the fear of Sycamore diseases that other parts of the state and country have experienced, and lately, because of overwhelming enthusiasm for the Mexican Sycamore. Yet, these diseases have not been a big problem in the San Antonio area. The same can be said of another great tree that has been underused in our area because of the fear of disease elsewhere-- the American Elm and the accompanying Dutch Elm Disease-- which has not been a problem down here. Not all plant diseases thrive “down here!” 

 Weaknesses of American Sycamore
All trees have strengths and weaknesses. You should consider a trees weaknesses, as well, when making an informed decision. You will be happy to find that this trees strengths overcome its weaknesses.

Weakness: Not As Long Lived As Oak Tree Choices

American Sycamore is not as long-lived as other good choices such as Monterrey Oak or Texas Red Oak. And of course, no tree, good for our area, comes even close to living as long as a Live Oak. This lack of longevity, perhaps living a hundred years, keeps the American Sycamore at #17.  If you want to leave behind a legacy for future generations and neighborhoods, the Oak trees are a better choice. If you want to enjoy a large tree while you are still alive, even though your grandchildren may not, consider the American Sycamore.

Weakness: Anthracnose And Bacterial Leaf Scorch
The lesser problem of American Sycamore is called Anthracnose and can occur in wet cool springs. This fungus can cause some leaves to turn brown and fall off but new leaves will quickly replace the old and usually no lasting damage is done. A more damaging disease for American Sycamore is Bacterial Leaf Scorch which can happen in the summer and cause some damage to limbs, die back of the crown and weakening of the tree over a number of years. This has been a problem elsewhere, but not in our area. American Sycamore trees continue to thrive all throughout Texas and most of the Country.

Weakness: Leaves and Small Twigs  

All those huge leaves may need to be racked up in the fall. And, during dry weather, leaves will also fall throughout the summer and small twigs as well. An easy way to deal with this problem is to just mow the leaves gradually. They will easily pulverize into a fine powder which is good for your grass.

Differences Between American And Mexican Sycamores

For a thorough discussion of the differences between American and Mexican Sycamore see our discussion under Mexican Sycamore.

American Sycamores For Sale At Wilson's
Each year we usually have a good supply of American Sycamores. Typically these are sold as 5 gallon, 15 gallon, 30 gallon and 45 gallon. Larger trees are available as well.

A Blessing For You
We hope that this plant information helps you as you search for that perfect tree. Whichever tree you choose, may it bring you many years of beauty and peace.

May you and your tree be “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)

If you are interested in buying or browsing American Sycamore trees in Helotes or San Antonio, Wilson Landscape has an impressive stock of all sizes and shapes of trees. We grow all of our trees from acorns and seeds and only use the best fertilizers. We have beautiful American Sycamore trees to choose from. We specialize in tree growing, and we only grow native and well adapted Texas trees, so you can be sure they will flourish. Best of all, Glenn and Sherry are plant experts and would love to answer any and all questions and concerns  about your specific tree needs. Our knowledge is something that is hard to find.  Come on in or give us a call today! 
(210) 695-2703

Buy American Sycamore Trees in Helotes at Wilson Landscape Nursery

Platanus occidentalis  variety palmeri

American Sycamore