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The Mexican Sycamore – Platanus mexicana

by Keith Brown
August 8, 2010

The Mexican sycamore has been a popular planting choice for about 10 years. Like the moneterey oak, it seems to be emerging as a great tree for the area, but it has yet to stand the test of time.

Mexican sycamore

The Basics

To the untrained eye, a Mexican sycamore looks just like its close relative, the American sycamore. The easiest way to distinguish them is by looking at the foliage. American sycamores are wider at the base of the leaf and generally will have a lobe at the base of the leaf that the Mexican species lacks. Another thing to look at to distinguish them is the tree’s age. Since Mexican sycamores have been popular for only 10 years or so, it is unlikely you will find any old, large specimens.


americanSycamore.jpgIMG_2275.jpg

Mexican sycamores are fast growing and drought hardy. Maximum height should be around 50′ in our area. And, I’d guess they’ll have a life span of about 60 years. Mexican sycamores are resistant to bacterial leaf scorch, one of the more prominent and damaging diseases to the American sycamore. As a whole, the Mexican sycamore is pretty insect and disease resistant across the board. I would expect Mexican sycamores to be vulnerable to the cottonwood borer beetle just as the American counter-part is. This bug usually gets into older specimens so we’ll just have to wait and see.

There has been suspicion that the Mexican sycamore would not be cold hardy in the Austin area since the weather doesn’t get very cold in its natural distribution area. Last winter (2009-2010) was one the coldest winters we’ve had in a long time. We didn’t have extreme lows or ice build up, but we did have a large number of days below 35 degrees. All of the Mexican sycamores I’ve seen are still looking great. We’ll still have to see how they hold up to our irregular ice storms. But, I’m guessing they’re going to prove to be plenty cold hardy.

Natural Distribution

The Mexican sycamore is found naturally from Guatemala in the southern tip of Mexico up through to the north regions of Mexico. These trees are found in mixed forest galleries, usually along streams and creeks. But, they are known to be hardy in most environments.
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A Little History

There are believed to be two basic sub-genera of sycamore trees. One that spreads from eastern US south into Mexico and another that is found in the pacific northwest and europe. Some genetic researchers in Europe believe that Platanus mexicana (the Mexican sycamore) is the closest descendant to ancestral sycamore precursors. The believe the very first Platanus trees were in Mexico and that all Platanus trees across the globe have some Mexican sycamore in them.

The Mexican sycamore is one the trees on my most watched list. I’m growing to really appreciate them. Hopefully, the coming 20 years will show us that this is a great tree for our landscapes. For now we can only speculate.

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  • Brian Halsell says:

    Would happen to know a nursery that grow Mexican Sycamore?

  • DB says:

    Despite regular watering, the leaves on the Mexican Sycamore I planted this winter are starting to turn brown, and some are dropping. The Monterrey Oaks and Texas Red Oak planted at the same time are doing well. Is there anything I can do other than continuing to water and hope for the best?

  • Kristoffer Rasmussen says:

    We are planting 5 Mexican Sycamores in Central Park of Azle Texas. The trees are 3′ dbh and about 20′ tall. I will post their progress.

  • Michelle says:

    We just got a Mexican sycamore for the front yard. Now I’m a little concerned there won’t be enough room for the roots. I’m told the rule of thumb is that the roots can extend at least as wide as the longest branch and now I’m reading that with this tree that can be 50 feet. Our yard is pretty small. In the spot it was supposed to go, it would have 9 feet on 3 sides and plenty of room on the 4th side. Will that not be enough room? What is the consequence–a buckled driveway? The alternative that might give it some more room is moving a redbud that’s been there 2 years, but I don’t want to risk killing that, and that would also put the sycamore fairly close to our neighbors’ young oak tree. Any thoughts?

  • CW says:

    I just wanted to add that this species survived -10F and -8F lows in my part of Albuquerque, NM in 2011. This is is the last of my plants to leaf out, handles the arid conditions of our desert well and goes dormant prior to our first snows. A great choice for all of us in the SW.

  • Ann says:

    the mexican sycamore in our backyard is in it’s 3rd year and about 18ft tall. Last year the new growth came back only along the main trunk. The top 5ft died off. There is a powdery black mold-looking substance on the trunk of the dead portion of the tree. the new growth has just started and some of the sprouting leaves are turning brown and wilting. We had a late freeze after the new growth had formed which was normal looking until that time. Any advice?

  • susan says:

    I was almost sure I wanted them but now you have sold me on the Mexican sycamore.
    Where can I buy them in the Galveston area?
    thanks,
    susan

  • Dora Smith says:

    Keith:

    How common are sycamore trees in Austin?

    There is a dying sycamore tree near a bus stop where I often wait, in a North Austin residential neighborhood. Between the thing’s bizarre leaves, and the completely stripped appearance of its bark, I thought it was diseased. I’ve never seen another tree like it. Are there many around?

    What specifically causes them to die? There are other dead trees nearby, and since they are entirely dead I can’t tell what they were.

    Dora