American Sycamore: Best and Fastest Growing Shade Tree

Plant an American shade tree that will amaze you with its growth. Why wait forever to get some much-needed shade when you need it?

There are many exotic trees being hyped as fast-growing shade trees these days. Pricey trees with fancy names entice buyers, but for the best shade in the quickest time, you just can’t beat a good old American born and bred Platanus occidentalis, better known as the sycamore.

Image by Kevin Young

This shade tree is so easy to grow, we had one little twig springing up in a plastic garden pot for a year that hardly ever received adequate rain. In five years, it grew from a little stick into a 15- to 20-foot shade tree.

We watered it very little, maybe a cup full of water every month. We live in the Gulf Coast area of Texas, where it is normally rain-less in the scorching hot and humid summers.

Just Watch This Tree Grow

Why is it the best shade tree? Because it grows fast, has a beautiful umbrella canopy, and will grow in almost any location, although open spaces with adequate soil drainage are always a plus.

Image by pekemom

Take a look at the picture above and see what we were gifted with a short five years later. This tree is one of a dozen that are providing much-needed shade for our employee’s vehicles each and every hot summer day.

If you plant them in the sand of course, or under drought conditions, you may need to help them out with a little extra drink now and then, but normally the trees grow voraciously on their own in almost any soil and have been known to thrive in rugged hills or rocky ground.

The American Sycamore

George Washington even noted in his journal, an American sycamore tree by the Ohio River that was nearly 45 ft. in circumference. Remember, George was a surveyor in those days.

This brings up a really important point, don’t plant multiple sycamores too close together. This is no poplar tree, so don’t try to make a sycamore hedge. Of course, this is a common error among the amateur tree planting folks; not to leave an adequate distance between the trees to accommodate the growth.

Image by Alcartins

The sycamore’s canopy is wide at its base and usually narrowing toward the top. For this reason, and the fact that you want to give the tree plenty of shade room, allow 25 feet between the original plantings.

After Shade a Fall Bonanza

When the light begins to wane, you will be graced with beautiful golden leaves. The fall leaf dropping affords more sun in late autumn when additional light is welcomed and an attractive beige mottled tree bark offers visual enjoyment during the winter months.

Next spring, you will once again be graced with the arrival of huge palm-shaped leaves, four to nine inches in diameter. Leaves that promise to shelter whatever resides beneath them in the warmer weather. The bright green leaves are incredible, as they are the largest leaf of any tree.

Where Does it Grow?

Image by jhenning

The American sycamore trees, Platanus occidentalis, can grow to massive heights; up to 130 feet. Gigantic ones have been found as far north as Bismarck, North Dakota, and as far south as Okeechobee, Florida. Officially zones 4-9 are where they are said to thrive.

In short, the economically-priced American sycamore will become a stately shade tree, gracing your property with the benefit of a cooling canopy of huge salad plate size leaves; shade when you need it.

Give it space it deserves in order to provide you and your loved ones with much-welcomed comfort during the hot summer weather or wherever you want to feel the embracing breeze rustling through its enormous bright green canopy.


  • Charles Fergus, Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, Stackpole Books 2002
  • Dave Luthringer, “historical sycamore dimensions”, Native Tree Society Eastern Native Tree Society 2007
  • North Dakota Forest Service Register of Champion Trees
American Sycamore: Best and Fastest Growing Shade Tree