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Acer pseudoplatanus, the sycamore or sycamore maple, is native to central Europe and southwestern Asia. It is not a member of the Platanus genus (sycamore or plane tree), but the superficial similarity of its leaves led to its being named “pseudoplatanus,” from the Greek “pseudo-” for “false.” (The name “sycamore” originally belongs to the fig, Ficus sycomorus, of southwest Asia—the sycamore or “sycamore” of the Bible [Wikipedia 2011].) This species is also sometimes confused with Acer platanoides (Norway maple).

The sycamore maple is a large deciduous tree, 20–35 m tall, with a broad, domed crown. Bark is smooth and grey on young trees, becoming rougher with age and breaking up in scales, exposing pale-brown-to-pinkish inner bark. The leaves are opposite, palmately veined with five lobes that have toothed edges. Leaves are generally dark green, but cultivars have been developed with purplish, yellowish, and salmon-colored leaves. The monoecious yellow-green flowers appear in the spring on 10–20 cm pendulous racemes, with 20–50 flowers on each stalk; the flowers are scented and produce nectar to attract insect pollinators, in contrast to many Acer species, which are often wind pollinated. The fruits are winged nutlets (samaras), with 5–10 mm diameter seeds, each with a 20–40 mm long wing to catch the wind and rotate when they fall (Wikipedia 2011).

Sycamore maple tolerates wind, urban pollution and salt spray, which makes it popular for planting in cities and along roads and coastal areas. It is widely cultivated north of its native range in northern Europe, notably in the British Isles and Scandinavia, and has naturalized widely during the past several hundred years. Its range is also expanding following the most recent glaciation, so that it is no longer always clear where the native range is within Europe, and where it is introduced or naturalized from plantings (Weidema and Buchwald 2010, Wikipedia 2011). It is, however, considered invasive in northern Norway, and is sometimes removed from natural forests in Great Britain to prevent its further spread (Binggeli 1992).

Sycamore maple has been planted in temperate and coastal areas worldwide. It is considered invasive in regions including New Zealand, Australia, and Chile (Wikipedia 2011, Binggeli 1992). In North America, it has naturalized from plantings in New England, New York City, and the Pacific Northwest; it is prohibited for sale or planting in Connecticut and Massachusetts (USDA, NRCS 2011).

Sycamore maple is used for timber production in Europe, as an ornamental and specimen tree, and in Bonsai. Its medium-weight white wood is used for making musical instruments, furniture, wood flooring and parquetry. Occasional trees produce wavy-grained wood, known as rippled sycamore, which is valued for decorative veneers (Wikipedia 2011). The flowers are appreciated by apiarists for honey production.

A. pseudoplatanus is the type species of the genus Acer. The genus is sometimes classified in its own family, Aceraceae, but is grouped in Sapindaceae (along with Hippocastanaceae) in the most recent version of the Angiosperm Phyologeny Group system (Stevens 2001).


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