Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Platanus racemosa. CALIFORNIA PLANE, SYCAMORE. California
PLATANACEAE (Plane tree family)

This tree and the buttonwood (Platanus occidentalis) of the Southern and Western states are both called sycamores because of the general resemblance to the European sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) but the relationship is remote as evidenced by the 1-inch diameter seed balls that are clearly seen when the leaves fall. European sycamore has the usual keys of a maple; in learning to distinguish these trees it is helpful to think of this one as the California plane tree. Still, nearly everybody calls it a sycamore, and one can wink at the inconsistency seeing that the European sycamore, in turn, has no connection with the original Biblical sycamore (Ficus sycomorus) of Egypt and Asia Minor.

The leaves of P. racemosa generally have five lobes, but some have three and could be described as W-shaped. The base of the short leaf stalk is clasped by a distinctively two-pointed green stipule that offers a reliable identification until it drops off; the young leaves unfurl covered with rusty wool, some or much of which can still be found at the junction of the veins of older leaves.

A noble specimen of massive proportions, 10½ feet in girth, stands on the south side of the Old Union courtyard, just outside the arcade, and half a dozen vintage specimens grow on the side edges of Frost Amphitheater’s grand lawn. There are many on Stanford Avenue as it approaches Junipero Serra Boulevard and, more recently, a section of what was Governor’s Avenue acquired about 75 trees spaced 15 feet apart, west of the Center for Clinical Sciences Research. An allée was also planted at the beginning of Governor's Ave. S. and the adjacent parking lot along Campus Dr. West.

The most unusual campus specimen, at 524 Gerona Road, was planted by the original homeowners in the late 1930s and trained as a giant bonsai, with the two trunks artistically counterbalancing each other before they soar upward. The California plane is a native of Santa Clara County.

Illustration: McMinn, Howard E. and Evelyn Maino. 1951. An illustrated manual of Pacific coast trees; with lists of trees recommended for various uses on the Pacific coast by H. W. Shepherd. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Illustrations (links open new windows): habit | leaf

Additions/Revisions:

Name derivation, genus | species

Related material:

Botanical name index | Common name index | Family
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