Sycamores add Autumn color

One of the great joys of Autumn is feeling a breath of cool, fresh air after a long, stifling summer and a wildly unpredictable Indian summer.  About the time that we get our first freeze or two, Autumn treats us to another spectacle – fall colors.

Around much of southwest Mississippi there is not the variety of colors as you might find in New England.  There are several reasons for this, including,

  • warmer climate makes more trees evergreen or nearly-so.
  • huge stands of farmed pines (evergreens)
  • perhaps less variety of deciduous trees

But that is not to say that there are no fall colors.  There are the bright reds of ornamental Japanese maples and the yellows of sweetgums, pecans, and hickories.  Some of our common oak trees show some yellow or orange, but most of what we see from the oaks are browns. The rusty orange of cedar is prominent in places, but all of these pale next to what I consider the Deciduous Queen of the Forest – the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).

Sycamore is a very distinctive tree throughout its life cycle. They have a tall, symmetric tree shape – the shape that comes to mind when you think the word, ‘tree’ – the sort of tree shape you see when a child makes a crayon drawing a tall, straight tree with a green cloud for a top.

The outer bark of the American sycamore exfoliates in large irregular patches, leaving the pale green and stark white inner bark exposed, especially at the top.

I’ve read that because sycamores like wet places like creek beds, when the pioneers were traveling in unfamiliar territory they would scan the treetops looking for the bright white trunks of sycamores to lead them to water sources.

The tree produces balls similar to a gum ball tree – in fact, if you do an internet image search for “sycamore tree balls” about half the images will actually be from the totally unrelated sweetgum tree (liquidambar styricaflua).


The leaves of a sycamore are easily recognizable – large, broad, vaguely palmate leaves on long petioles.  During the changing of the colors, sycamores are distinctive because of their flame orange leaves that drop, creating a thick and wide-spread carpet of orange leaves on the ground.


The sycamores pictured here stand in downtown Magnolia between the Public Library and the Municipal Court building.  Magnolia seems to be a haven for large beautiful sycamores, lying as it does at the confluence of the Minnehaha and Little Tangipahoa rivers.

There are many other beautiful sycamores in Magnolia town, notable ones including the tall, straight tree that Joe Cornacchione transplanted into his front yard on South Clark Street, the luscious, younger sycamores on the east side of the railroad depot, and perhaps the most singularly beautiful specimen that I’ve ever seen at the corner of Prewett and Holly Streets.


All photos courtesy of Patrick Parker – The Roaming Parkers

except for the free, public domain image of the sycamore balls.


Categories: Nature