Sycamores

Sycamores are deceptively similar to the Norway maple.  If you are photographing in autumn and you are an idiot, you will get home to find you have 250 photos of maples and one sycamore.

The maples turn first, and are enchanting. In early autumn, sycamores are just those big old trees with dull green leaves. Even in late autumn, there's not a huge variety of colour, other than some that take on spotty yellowing, and others that dry out until they turn a pinky-brown.

One surprise is that the tar spot fungus which makes these black spots below is a good sign. You only get it in less polluted areas. Windy Edinburgh is quite a clean city.




However, maybe because of their size, the Meadows sycamores are the place to spot squirrels.


This well-upholstered rodent was in one of their branches when I was out sycamore hunting. (Your best chances of spotting the park squirrels are in George Square Gardens, just north of the Meadows, and the little fenced square north of the Croquet Club.)

The height and broad canopy of old trees also makes them attractive to crows, who flit from branch to branch at dusk.

It's hard work spotting tiny insect-eating bird, the treecreeper, but the few I've seen have usually been dashing through the sycamores on Melville Drive towards Tollcross.


I'm not qualified to join the debate about whether sycamores are "native", but it's obvious to me from daily walks in spring that they're a welcome food source for several species of insect, and hence birds. The leaves in particular are sometimes spattered with wee beasties.

Treecreepers, however, specialise in edging round to whichever side of a tree trunk is the other side from you. Photography is therefore an intense frustration.

One much-loved insect that likes trees is the ladybird, and here's a 2-spot with a very odd spot shape, on a leaf on South Meadow Walk. I can't now remember if it was a maple or a sycamore, so with no other justification I'm putting it on the sycamore page because the maple page is too crowded, even though frankly this looks more like a maple leaf. That's the sort of shoddy blogger I am.



Almost all the sycamores in the park are mature trees, showing the cracking bark typical as they age.




Others have large burls on the trunk.



There are a few new plantings of lovely variegated sycamore, such as this one on North Meadow Walk



There's also a mature variegated sycamore at the south end of Bruntsfield Links that displays the beautiful dark twisting twigs and branches of the older trees



Inevitably some sycamores are gripped by the Tar spot fungus, but it's fairly harmless.


The sycamores are among the first of the park trees to come into leaf and flower in the spring, adding a cheerful green where the others are a nearly-bare brown.



 How do I recognise a sycamore?
It's not hard to pass by a sycamore in the Meadows: there are nearly 300 of them. What's more of a headache is distinguishing them from the other maples, but there are tricks that make it easier. (There's also a page of useful advice on this and pictures of Norway Maples via London tree expert the Street Tree, plus tips on winter identification by Paul Kirtley here.)  The Friends of the Meadows have a high-res pic of a fine old sycamore on Leamington Walk at the foot of Marchmont Road.

Leaves: each of the 5 lobes bulges a little, like an egg. Sycamore leaves turn yellow in autumn; the Norway maples become all shades of red, purple, gold and yellow.

Twigs: the twigs are curling and grizzled (beautiful in winter, especially when the buds catch the sunlight and appear to glow on the ends).
These are the rooftops of Bruntsfield Crescent, one winter's dusk
And here's a heavily-pruned old sycamore on Middle Meadow Walk in the strange light of a nacreous February dawn
This starling is sitting among twist after twist of sycamore twigs, frazzled as if they'd been struck by lightning

Buds: compared to many other trees, these are large (hence easy to spot) and quite distinctive.
These become tinted with red and open out into beautiful early green flowers and leaves. The pics below are from several sycamores, both standard and variegated (and this idiot photographer may find that one or two of these turns out to be another maple ...)




Leaves: by summer they've darkened and you can easily see the slightly egg-shaped bulge of the lobes, which helps distinguish them from Norway maple



Bark: on older trees especially, the bark looks as if it's wearing away and cracking off. On some it looks like thick old crackling paint; on others it looks like fish scales. Underneath there are often exposed sworls of smoother bark, in a lovely pale coppery red.
The trunks are often green with lichen.


Seeds: like the Norway maple, also found everywhere in the park, the seeds come in little helicopters (pairs of samaras). But Norway maple samaras are more horizontal, like a moustache. The sycamore samaras are more like a claw.

By night:
As dusk falls, the sycamores of the Underworld flow forth from the Seat of Power