If you’ve ever seen a tall, majestic sycamore tree, you may have wondered just how long it had been standing there. Is there any way to know how old the tree is? In this article, we’ll talk about how to determine the age of a sycamore tree.
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Sycamore Tree?
Sycamore trees are large, long-lived deciduous trees that can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. There are various species of sycamore; some are well adapted to warmer regions, while others thrive best in cooler climates.
Sycamores can grow very large, sometimes up to 130 feet. Their trunk diameter can grow as wide as 5 to 10 feet, and the canopy can spread as wide as 40 feet.
Due to this large size, as well as their aggressive root systems, sycamore trees are not the best choice for home growing and landscaping. Instead, they are often found in parks and manmade urban wooded areas, as well as in natural forests.
Sycamores have light green, 3- to 5-lobed leaves that turn bright colors in the fall. One of their most unique features is their thin, flaky, mottled-looking bark; it is often gray to white on young trees, but it will turn dark gray to red on older trees.
Sycamore trees produce small flowers in the spring and need multiple trees to reproduce. In the summer and fall, they produce green seed balls that turn brown in the winter before falling and dispersing their seeds in the spring.
Check out this video to learn more about sycamore trees:
How Do You Determine the Age of a Sycamore Tree?
It’s generally impossible to determine the exact age of a live tree without cutting it down and counting the rings; that said, there are ways to get a pretty accurate estimate. Let’s take a look at some different methods you can use to age your sycamore tree.
Use a Tree Age Calculator or Formula
The International Society of Arboriculture introduced a method of tree age estimation. You can use this method using a tree age calculator such as this one.
You can also figure a tree’s approximate age by using a simple formula instead of the provided calculator.
Using the formula, you must first determine the tree’s approximate diameter. Using a soft measuring tape, measure the tree’s circumference at four and a half feet up the trunk.
If the tree divides into multiple branches below four and a half feet, measure the largest one. It’s important to measure at four and a half feet because this is considered “breast height,” and you are attempting to determine the tree’s “diameter at breast height (DBH).”
Once you have the circumference, divide it by pi (3.141592) and round your answer to the nearest inch.
Example: For example, if your sycamore has a circumference of 80 inches, it will have a DBH of about 25 inches because 80 / 3.141592 = 25.46.
Next, you’ll need to look at a growth factor chart (such as the one included with the above tree age calculator) to determine the tree’s growth factor number. The growth factor for an American Sycamore is 4.
Multiply the DBH by this growth factor number to determine the tree’s approximate age.
Going back to our example above, our American Sycamore has a diameter of 25 inches and a growth factor number of 4. 4 x 25 =100; so the tree is approximately 100 years old.
Of course, the above method can only give you an estimate, at best. The most accurate way of determining a tree’s age is to count its rings; but obviously, you don’t want to cut down a healthy living tree just to see how many rings it has inside the trunk.
Increment boring may provide an alternative.
This technique should generally be left to a professional tree service, as it can lead to disease and injury to the tree if you don’t know what you’re doing. That said, it is a viable option for determining a tree’s age if you have the right knowledge and equipment or are willing to hire someone to do it for you.
To perform this technique, an instrument called an increment borer is used; it is made up of a mini auger and an extraction tool. The auger is drilled into the trunk at a height of four and a half feet and a small section of the tree is extracted.
Before boring, it’s important to determine the tree’s radius. Simply figure the DBH, as described above, then divide that by two; so, if your tree’s diameter is 25 inches, the radius will be about 12.5 inches.
In this scenario, you would drill the auger about 12.5 inches into the trunk; you want it to go in as close to the center (or pith) as possible.
Once you have extracted the piece of tree trunk, you can sand it down with sandpaper to help the rings show up better. Leave the hole in the tree alone; it should heal over on its own, though there is a small chance that disease or insects will get in through the hole and weaken the tree over time.
Examine the piece of wood. The rings should be curved toward the outer edge of the piece until it reaches the center; if you extracted any wood on the other side of the middle, the rings will curve the opposite way.
Count the rings; this will give you the age of the tree from the time it reached four and a half feet tall. To estimate the actual age, add about 5 years.
Count the Rings
As noticed, the best way to determine a sycamore tree’s age is to count the rings. If the tree is dead and needs to be removed, or if it has recently been uprooted in a windstorm, you can use this method to discover how old the tree was when it died.
Use a chainsaw to make a clean cut through the trunk of the tree near the base. If you want, you can sand the surface smooth to make it easier to see the rings.
Count the rings that you see. If you are able to see them all and count them successfully, this will give you an accurate picture of the tree’s age.
If you haven’t counted tree rings before, you might want to start by watching a tutorial video like the one below:
How Long Do Sycamore Trees Live?
As noted above, sycamores are very long-lived trees. It isn’t uncommon for them to live hundreds of years.
They grow fast if soil conditions are good, though at some point their growth rate will begin to slow down. Their long lives and rapid growth rate are what allow them to grow to such impressive sizes over the course of their lives.
It’s common for sycamore trees to live from 200 to 300 years. Some sycamores, given the right environmental conditions, have been known to live up to 600 years.
How Long Does It Take for a Sycamore Tree to Seed?
Sycamore trees grow fast considering their long lifespan, and they may begin producing seeds in as little as 6 or 7 years.
Depending on the species, sycamore seeds are held in soft, fuzzy balls or in “helicopters” similar to those produced by maple trees. The seeds themselves are released in the spring, blowing in the wind before settling in the ground some distance away from the parent tree.
Sycamores may produce seeds every year until they are about 250 years old.
You can estimate a sycamore tree’s age by multiplying its diameter at breast height by its growth factor, 4. If you’d like a more exact method, you can have a professional tree service use an increment borer to extract a portion of the trunk so you can count its rings.