American Sycamore

outdoors at a botanical garden with large trees with a large tree with leaves

Reiman Gardens was founded at its current site in 1993. Before then the site had been a prime parking site for football games, and before that the site had hosted an agricultural facility. At this time the main road to Iowa State University from the south was Beach Avenue, before Elwood Drive (University Boulevard) was built. Sometime back in the 20’s or 30’s a row of American Sycamore trees was planted along Beach Avenue to spruce up the southern entrance to Iowa State University. Seven of these trees still exist and can be seen today at Reiman Gardens.

American Sycamore trees, Platanus occidentalis, are native to Iowa and grow very large, 75-100’ tall and wide. Native Americans used to use these large trees by carving out the trunk to make a dugout canoe. Besides being very large they are fast growing and long lived. However, unlike many fast growing trees, American Sycamores are much stronger and are less prone to wind damage. They make excellent shade trees due to their form as well as their deer and pollution resistance. They work particularly well in wet areas such as rain gardens, but also tolerate drier conditions. The American Sycamore can be easily identified by their large 4-7 inch leaves which are 3-5 lobed and have a coarsely toothed margin. They are also known for their unusual bark. The brown outer bark will peel to reveal creamy white inner bark, providing great winter interest.

Sycamore trees have a special history at Iowa State University. Besides the row of trees at Reiman Gardens there is another row of American Sycamores known as Sycamore Row. This line of trees starts on campus near the Landscape Architecture building and runs east along the old Dinky rail line past Lied Center and the soccer fields ending at Squaw Creek. This row of trees contains 42 100-year old sycamores. To learn more about old trees on campus check out the Iowa State University Heritage Tree Program, and be sure to visit Reiman Gardens’ American Sycamores which are located at the south end of the garden near the boardwalk.