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Why Do Sycamore Trees Shed Their Bark?

Sycamores are a fascinating group of trees for many reasons. Aside from their various uses for humans and wildlife alike, they possess unique beauty in their identifying features. In this article we’ll discuss sycamore tree bark, and what makes it special. 

Is It Normal for a Sycamore Tree To Shed Its Bark?

is it normal for a sycamore tree to shed its bark

If you’re a new property owner of land with sycamores or if you planted your own tree, it can be alarming the first time you notice bark all over the ground. Thankfully, peeling bark is a completely normal feature of a healthy sycamore. 

People who are more familiar with sycamore trees can easily identify them by their telltale patchy bark. It starts out as a gray-brown color, but as the tree matures, the outer layer comes off in big sheets to reveal a creamy white layer that resembles camouflage. 

Since the older bark turns white, you’ll notice that approximately the top half of a mature sycamore is a much lighter color than the bottom. Once a sycamore is in advanced age, it becomes covered in scaly bark that doesn’t shed anymore. 

So while large amounts of peeling bark might be a reason for concern for some types of trees, for sycamores, it’s the mark of a healthy tree. Some homeowners with sycamore trees make use of the plentiful bark by using it for garden mulch, kindling for fires, and even herbal tea

For a good visual example of an actively peeling sycamore during the growing season, watch this YouTube video:

How Often Do Sycamore Trees Lose Their Bark?

Sycamore trees shed their bark throughout most of the year. The bark loss happens at a higher rate during the hottest part of the summer, as well as during and after windstorms or heavy rain. 

Another factor that affects the rate of bark shedding is size. Generally speaking, the bigger the tree, the more bark debris it will produce.

Consistently peeling bark is a big part of why some homeowners are not interested in planting sycamore trees (providing they have the space for it to begin with). Sycamores drop a lot of litter throughout the year in the form of large chunks of bark, huge maple-like leaves, and seed pods. 

Why Do Sycamore Trees Lose Their Bark?

The process of a sycamore losing its bark is simple to understand. When the tree is young, the bark is smooth and thin. As it grows, the bark on the tree becomes thicker, and the layer of tissue on the surface dies and falls off. 

As the tree and the bark continue to grow, the older bark pushes outwards. This leads to the outer layers of the bark cracking.   

Although scientists understand how the process of bark shedding works, they aren’t sure why it happens. There are several different theories, none of which have been proven. 

According to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, one possible theory for exfoliating bark in Sycamore trees is that it’s a defense mechanism of sorts. A tree that regularly sheds its bark may provide less chance for fungi, parasites, and epiphytes to remain. 

Does Peeling Bark Mean a Tree Is Dying?

does peeling bark mean a tree is dying

For many tree species, peeling bark can indeed be a bad sign. Sick and dying trees will often start shedding large amounts of bark. 

However, for many species, peeling bark could mean nearly the opposite – the tree is healthy and developing normally. Here are some types of trees that are known to shed their bark when healthy:

  • Sycamores
  • Redbuds
  • Silver maple
  • Birch
  • Lacebark pine
  • Paperbark maple

It’s important to note that shedding bark is normal in these varieties except for when the bark peels off to reveal bare wood as opposed to underlying bark. This could be a sign of a tree in distress. 

Before assuming that your tree is sick, or dying, though, peeling bark alone is not always indicative of a problem. If you notice your tree is shedding a significant amount of bark, it’s best to check for other symptoms and call a professional tree service for diagnosis. 

Some of the other symptoms of a sick tree include:

  • Visible signs of rot
  • High amounts of leaf drop during the normal growing season 
  • Large numbers of falling branches
  • Leaning to one side 
  • Termites, beetles, or other tree-harming pests

Although sycamores might not be the best choice for someone who wants a perfectly manicured lawn, they are a great choice for many homeowners with larger properties and lots of free space. Depending on your priorities, the unique beauty of a giant sycamore tree makes the bark mess worth it. 

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