Sycamore flowering in May (xf).
This tree is in every respect a typical maple, but we call it 'sycamore' because when it was first brought into England it was thought to be the 'sycomorus' or 'fig-mulberry' mentioned in the Bible. In Scodand it was thought to be a plane tree of the genus Platanus, and both tree and timber are still called 'plane' in that country.
Sycamore is a very common forest tree in central Europe, and grows as a native no farther away than the outskirts of Paris. But in prehistoric times it failed to spread across the Channel to England and it was unknown here until some unrecorded date in the Middle Ages. Once it had arrived, it throve and established itself firmly in our woodlands, and it now behaves just like a native tree. The well-known winged seeds enable it to spread rapidly, and as it bears heavy seed crops every year its seedlings often become a nuisance to gardeners.
Sycamore twigs (Figure 7, left) are sturdy, and its buds, which are ranked in opposite pairs, are plump, with green outer scales. The leaves are large, and have lobes with rounded outlines, carrying shallow teeth. The flower-clusters, unlike those of the two other maples described, hang downwards. They are greenish-yellow in colour, and their petals are quite small. They are pretty, but not very conspicuous. Nevertheless the bees always find them, for they yield ample nectar. The flowers towards the base of each hanging catkin-like raceme are mainly females, while those in the middle are male and towards the tip they are sterile. The outer half of the raceme is shed after flowering.
Sycamore seeds are plump, and carry wings that are narrow at the base, broader farther out The two winged seeds are set at a sharp angle towards each other. When they fall, they usually do so as a pair, and drift down to earth spinning round like the blades of a helicopter. They sprout next spring, sending out a pair of long strap-shaped seed-leaves. It is an odd feature of the sycamore that li these seed-leaves are already green, before they have emerged to greet the light.
Sycamore bark, smooth at first gradually develops rough flat surface plates that fall away from time to time, exposing younger bark below. The bark as a whole is a dull metallic grey, but fawn-coloured where freshly exposed, pale orange-brown on old trees ¡Plate 4).
Sycamore forms a forest tree of the first size, records for height in Britain being 34m. and for girth 7m, It is capable of living to an age of several hundred years, though most trees are felled at an age of 100 years or so for their valuable timber When grown in the open surroundings of a park, it forms a magnificent specimen, with tier upon der of lustrous green foliage soaring up to form a rounded dome.
The wood of sycamore is a very pale cream, almost white, in colour, with no well-marked figure or grain. It is hard and strong, and can be worked well to a very smooth finish, it enjoys a steady demand, and a good price, for furniture making and fine joinery, and It is also used by wood-turners and wood-catvers for bowls, platters, and spoons. Formerly much was used for rollers in textile mills, because it does not stain the cloth. It does not taint food, or stain, and can be scrubbed but remains smooth, so it is valued for kitchen-ware.
Figured sycamore, that is, wood showing an attractive pattern of light and dark shades in the grain of its wood, is exceptionally valuable for curling into decorative veneers, A good mature stem showing 'ripple' or 'fiddle-back' figure is highly prized because a large area of thin veneer can be cut from a single large log. Sycamore is in fact always used for the back of a fiddle, or any similar instrument of the violin family, and also for its sides and stock.
Good sycamore can only be grown on fertile soil, preferably one rich in lime, in well-sheltered surroundings, A good deal of commercial planting for timber is carried out on private estates where the land is known to give valuable stems. Sycamore is hardy everywhere, and some of the finest timber comes from the north of England, particularly Yorkshire.
A further use of sycamoce is as a shelter tree. It is very windfirm, and it will face up to the very worst exposure, either inland or near the sea In northern England, and also in North Wales, sycamores have often been planted to shelter the most exposed, stone-built upland farmsteads. The northernmost woodland in Britain is a plantation of sycamores on the Queen Mother's estate atthe Castle of Mey, on the very exposed north coast of Caithness.
Sycamore leaves are often stained with black patches caused by the tar-spot fungus Rhytisma acerinum. This fungus overwinters on the leaves after they have fallen, and the black patches produce fresh spores in the spring, which carry the infection to a fresh crop of leaves next year. Luckily the tar-spot fungus causes only trivial damage to the tree. It is less seen in cities, because it is poisoned by the sutphur dioxide in smoky air.
Sycamore fruiting In October (x;).
Sycamore fruiting In October (x;).
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