Monday, January 9, 2017

Sycamore tree: Love it or hate it?

It is already the second week in January, yet quite a few brown sycamore leaves remain stubbornly attached to branches. Don’t they know autumn is over?

It’s past time for the last lingering leathery, gutter-clogging leaves to let go. Detach. Release that grip and drift gently to the ground. All the other deciduous trees in our yard dropped foliage months ago. But not the sycamore tree. Sycamore trees are the ultimate hangers-on, steadfastly maintaining at least part of their leafy headdresses well into winter.

Still a few sycamore leaves remain even in the 2nd week of January

I don’t like sycamore trees, although I used to. I used to think these tall symmetrically-shaped shade trees were pretty. I suppose I still do as long as they’re in someone else’s front yard — just not in mine.

In addition to being delinquent leaf droppers, sycamore trees make messes in other ways too. The multi-colored bark I used to find so attractive doesn’t look nearly so nice when it peels off and falls to the ground. Neither are the copious amounts of brittle branches that break off more readily than those of any other tree I’ve ever encountered.

Brittle branches, peeling bark, thousands of seedpods and leaves that keep falling well into winter

And the seedpods! Oh, my goodness! For months, brown seedpods the size and shape of ping-pong balls fall to the ground only to become hidden beneath leaves. I wouldn’t mind these hard orbs so much if it didn’t hurt to step on them with bare feet, which I inevitably do whenever I’m outside in the yard.

Sycamore seedpods and the moon

I realize there are far more serious problems to concern myself with than the misplacement of a single tree in the landscape. But this is a problem for which I am completely responsible.

For years, I lobbied my husband Ralph to plant a sycamore tree in our yard. I told him how much I loved the tree’s symmetric shape, its towering height, multi-colored bark and dangling seed pods. I was so pleased when he finally agreed to plant one about 20 feet away from our house.

I knew if my green-thumbed spouse planted the tree, it would grow — and it did. One of a sycamore tree’s most appealing characteristics is its rapid growth rate, and the tree my sweet partner planted for me was no exception. It grew and grew and grew some more. Since its planting many years ago, the once-tiny sapling has become a mighty tree towering over the second story of our house and just about as wide as it is tall.

The sycamore tree by our house 

For the first few years, I was pleased. In springtime, flocks of cedar waxwings use the tree as a way station between gluttonous feasts at a nearby stand of mulberries. 

Too many cedar waxwings to count!

During daytime, songbirds scour its leaves for insects while at night, collared doves fall asleep on its slender branches.

Male bluebird in sycamore tree

Dove perched on a sycamore branch

As the tree’s girth increased, the sycamore attracted yellow-bellied sapsuckers, birds that methodically encircle the tree’s trunk with small holes to sip its syrupy insect-rich fluid.

These positive attributes made me happy.

But then leaves began to fall. Lots and lots of leaves.

Leaves on the walkways. Leaves in the garage. Leaves on the flowerbeds. Leaves on the yard. And most annoyingly, leaves in the gutters. The bigger the tree became, the more leaves it dropped. It soon became obvious that cleaning out the gutters was useless because more leaves keep falling well after other deciduous trees were bare.

Leaves, leaves and more leaves!

Of all the landscape mistakes I’ve made over the years — I’ve made many — planting a sycamore tree close to a house with gutters is near the top of the list. But my husband disagrees.

“I like it. It’s pretty,” he repeated again this morning as I, once again, tried to convince him to cut the tree down.

When you are married for a long time, you figure out which battles to pursue and which ones to let slide. My husband, who usually doesn’t express deep feelings for any plants other than those growing in his beloved vegetable garden, favors that sycamore with unwavering affection, and while I don’t have to agree with him, I do have to respect his opinion.

Ralph in his beloved vegetable garden

Life is all about compromise and finding the good in the bad. For now, I’ll try to make more of an effort to focus on the tree’s positive attributes and ignore its unpleasant ones. I may be responsible for the sycamore’s existence in our yard, but that doesn’t mean I have to be like the tree and let my mistake linger on long after others have been let go.

Nor do I have to clog up my mental gutter with frustration or annoyance. It’s time to get out the rake and clean up my act. Love it or hate it, the sycamore tree in our yard is here to stay.

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