Botanical name: The name for sycamore is Acer pseudoplatanus, which means the maple that resembles the plane tree. The plane tree is native to similar areas in southern central Europe and has a tendency to make taller and straighter stems than the sycamore. Botanists, when naming plants often use the term false tooth to describe a lesser species, at least less important than what might appear to be the main species.

The common name sycamore is very old, going back to the ancient Greeks known to them as sukomoros. This name was also used for the fig in ancient writing, and the possibility of an author taking a shortcut arises.

Family: Sycamore is part of the maple family, the Aceraceae. This remarkable genus contains thousands of genera, species, varieties, hybrids and named cultivars. Notably, many kinds of Japanese maple have been valued for garden use for over a century and for many centuries in its native land. There are many kinds. For example, in North America, the sugar maples are noted for their splendid autumn colour foliage.

The sycamore tree and its close relative, the Norway maple, Acer platanoides, are of Eurasian origin. The range of the Norway maple begins in Norway and further south. Both of these species carry the family name, genus Acer, which means sharp or pointed.

Garden use

The undoubted star of the show is the form of sycamore, named ‘Brilliantissimum’ which means the very showy or brilliant one. This is a very decorative, small tree that does not instantly signal its origin as a selection from the typical sycamore. In spring, this tree breaks bud in a dramatic show of red-tinged yellow leaves. The show of red colouring sees the leaves turning pink and yellow as the red pigment dissipates. As the foliage expands, it is joined in the display by the bunches of pendent flowers, which are also yellow.

Moving into summer, the red is washed out and the yellow leaves begin to change, as the green chlorophyll takes over.

‘Prinz Handjery’ is similar to ‘Brilliantissaum’, but has purple coloured leaves on the underside. ‘Atropurpureum’ is a selection with purple leaves. ‘Leopoldii’ opens pink foliage that turns yellow, speckled with green in summer while ‘Worley’ opens yellow, but with red leaf-stalks.

The Norway maple is a very handsome typical maple with indented leaves. It occasionally sows itself but nothing like the waves of sycamore seeds.

People are often surprised to learn that sycamore is not a native tree. It is found in roadside ditches and in neglected town gardens. It is considered, after ash, to be the most widely grown, self-sown tree species. It is interesting to note that both species, ash and sycamore, spread by means of airborne, winged seeds. However, the opinion has been expressed that these cultivars have been over-planted.

Growing sycamore and Norway maple

Sycamore and Norway maple are both large-growing trees, suitable for planting in a large garden in the countryside, but they are too large for most town planting. In addition, the coloured foliage of the selected varieties does not suit the country, or at least does not suit the more natural landscape in a country garden. So, if the coloured kinds are to be planted in a rural setting, they should be used as single trees or at most, a small group of three trees. These could be planted in a triangular layout, or split into three; two plants beside each other, and one a little distance away to play off the two.

Neither are very particular about the soil in which they grow, except that it should not be very wet in winter. While Norway maple is often planted for its yellow autumn colour, sycamore turns withered and brown.

However, despite being a non-native tree, the sycamore has emerged as a relatively wind-resistant species, as it is not uncommon to see it taking the damage gales can bring.

Giving pollinators a hand

Most outdoor plants, both decorative and edible, are pollinated by insects and beetles. However, movement of the flowers by wind is also very significant. For instance, many trees and shrubs, perennial flowers and grasses are pollinated by the wind. The plants pollinated by insects will be those carrying colourful, relatively large flowers. Some trees have colourful flowers that exude nectar as a food for insects that arrive to effect pollination as a side issue to feeding. By contrast, the wind-pollinated flowers have the functional parts of the flower, namely the stamens and receptive stigma.

Peach Tree Blossom

If strawberries in a tunnel are in flower, make sure to pollinate by allowing some air to pass through; peaches have probably been pollinated already, but if still in flower, make sure to tap the branches to release pollen. Cucumber family plants, may need to be pollinated by hand, such as cucumbers themselves in a greenhouse, although outdoor crops are fine. Sweetcorn plants grow strongly under cover, but also will need to be shaken a little to encourage pollination.

This week’s reminders

Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs

Wait until the soil dries out to cultivate for sowing vegetable seeds. However, as soon as the weather and soil conditions permit, the sowing of most kinds of vegetables can start. Herbs can be planted from pots, but sowing of herb seeds can wait a few weeks until the soil is warmer.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Roses should be pruned, if not already done. The bushes are ahead this year with new growth to 10cm and more in some cases. Many rose varieties are susceptible to the disease rose blackspot . Control weeds around roses too. Deciduous trees broke bud on cue in March.


Plant perennial flowers and continue dividing over-grown plants or those in need of controlling width. Tidy up between flowers and remove or chop up old flower stalks that are now withered and beginning to disintegrate. Seeds of summer bedding can be sown for the fast developers.

Greenhouse and house plants

The greenhouse is in active growth and all plants should be well fed and watered with the only exceptions being those which are still a bit slow to get started. Check for pests and control them early if necessary. Small flower plugs are very handy but suppliers are affected by trading rules.


The lawn should have been mowed a couple of times already. Many lawns took on a chilled brownish or purplish look, some went yellow too, especially on wet ground. When it dries out, apply some lawn fertiliser to get grass moving again, but do not over-do it.

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