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Posted on December 13, 2008 by Ash
Sunny young sycamore leaves from a walk up Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, on the 3rd of May 2007.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus L.) is a large deciduous tree common throughout the British Isles. It may be known in Scotland as the plane. Foreign readers of this blog should not confuse the British sycamore, with which I am concerned, with different species growing around the world which are also commonly called sycamore or plane.
[Sycamore] is not native to Britain. Its real home is high ground in southern and central Europe extending northwards to Paris and east to the Caucasus.
As an epilogue to Harris’s article, there was a response by M. P. Denne 4 (of the Department of Forestry and Wood Science, University College of North Wales) published in the next but one issue of the Quarterly Journal of Forestry. Denne writes that she has “not yet found any sycamore amongst the fragments of charcoal that I have been asked to identify from a number of Neolithic sites in North Wales”. The second half of her letter is a good response to Harris, so I’ll give Denne the last say in this matter.
Judging from the uses they seem to have made of the different timbers on these sites, Neolithic people must have had considerable knowledge of the wood properties of different tree species. Since sycamore can produce good quality timber on a wide variety of sites, and the wood is strong and easy to work, one would have expected it to have been in frequent use if it had been widely available at the time. As Esmond Harris points out, sycamore regenerates freely and grows well all over Britain, even on inhospitable sites. So if it was native to Britain, is there any reason why it might have been relatively rare in Neolithic times?
6 comments for Sycamore in Britain: native or non-native?
January 17, 2009 - 18:42 GMT
I must be honest working with trees for over 30 years you get a good feel for the biodiversity a tree supports. Naturally our native trees stand out in this field but I must say with them is the Sycamore!!
February 22, 2011 - 11:48 GMT
Yes, I have noticed that Sycamores support a decent amount of wildlife too.
February 25, 2011 - 11:43 GMT
Thank you Andrew to lead me to this old but very interesting post, I havn't seen it before.
September 7, 2011 - 08:55 GMT
Very interesting post - I wonder whether the Sycamore has been on a march northwards for a long time and the native range is perhaps a dubious 'fact'? Kalle B's comments are close to my own thoughts on the species - surely now is the time to embrace Acer pseudoplatanus? I recently wrote a less scientific post on the same subject that may be interesting to some: thestreettree.com/2011/09/06/sycamores-in-the-british-landscape
April 2, 2012 - 02:20 GMT
In light of permanent, scorching, repeating glaciations, erasing anything taller than grass, cowberry and may be some shrubby willows at best, it is utterly senseless to talk about native and non-native plants anywhere in europe. There aren't any native trees in britain (and most of europe for that matter), unless you call cowberry 'a tree'.
April 3, 2012 - 18:03 GMT
I'm afraid you're missing the point - the line must be drawn somewhere. 'Native' when used in the context of British trees tends to describe species that have recolonised Britain since the last glaciation ended and before the land bridge to Europe closed, unaided by humans. That is how the distinguished experts Owen Johnson, Alan Mitchell & Oliver Rackham would recognise our native species. It is a widely understood definition.
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