Other common names for the tree include false plane-tree, great maple, Scottish maple, mock-plane, or Celtic maple.
Acer pseudoplatanus, the sycamore or sycamore maple, is a species of maple native to Central Europe and Southwestern Asia, from France eastwards to Ukraine, and south in mountains to northern Spain, northern Turkey and the Caucasus, but cultivated and naturalized elsewhere.
Ted Green (2005) believes that the sycamore has been present in Britain since at least the Bronze Age citing that sycamore pollen has often been confused with that of Field Maple in Bronze Age and Iron Age burials. He suggests that it should be renamed “Celtic Maple”.
The lack of old native names for it has been used to demonstrate its absence in Britain before introduction in around 1487, but this is challenged by the presence of an old Scottish Gaelic name for the tree, fior chrann which suggests a longer presence in Scotland at least as far back as the Gaelic settlement at Dal Riada. This would make it either an archaeophyte (a naturalised tree introduced by humans before 1500) or perhaps native if it can be seen to have reached Scotland without human intervention.
It has been suggested that it could have been common up until Roman times when it went through a decline possibly brought about by climate change and human activities, surviving only in the mountains of Scotland.
At the moment it is usually classified as a neophyte, a plant that is naturalised but arrived with humans on or after the year 1500.
Fruits of Sycamore.
The Great Maple, Sycamore, or False Plane (Acer pseudo-platanus) is not a native tree, but it appears to have been introduced from the Continent as far back as the fifteenth century, so that it has had time during the intervening centuries to get well established among us, and by means of its winged seeds to distribute itself to remote corners of our islands. It appears to be fond of exposed situations, growing to a large size even near the sea, where the salt-laden gales destroy all other deciduous trees. Recently in Ireland we ascended a hill where the planting of pines and other trees had resulted in comparative failure, and found that the wind-borne seeds of the Sycamore had produced a large number of young trees, which will probably serve later as nurses for more desirable timber-producers. The close-grained, firm wood, which can be worked with ease, is not highly esteemed.
Leaf-buds of Sycamore.
Bole of Sycamore.
Its name of False Plane is due to the Scots calling it the Plane, misled of old by the similarity of the leaves, and the fact that patches of the fine ash-grey bark flake off, as in the true Plane, showing other tints. It grows to a height of sixty or even eighty feet so quickly that it is full-grown when only fifty or sixty years old, though it is supposed to live from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty years. Like that of the Common Maple, the wood of the Sycamore is firm and fine-grained, which does credit to the efforts of the French-polisher. The leaves are more heart-shaped, but cut into five lobes, whose edges are unequally toothed; they are six or eight inches across. The flowers are similar to those of the Common Maple, but larger, and in a long hanging raceme, which has a rather fine appearance. The samaras are scimitar-shaped and red-brown, about an inch and a half long. These are produced freely after the tree is about twenty years old. Like many other Maples, the Sycamore has sap which contains much sugar. Some of this appears also to exude through the leaves, for they are often found to be quite sticky to the touch. The black patches so frequent on Sycamore leaves are the work of a small fungus—Rhytisma acerinum.
The Maple was the Mapel-treow or Mapulder of the Anglo-Saxons; it was originally the Celtic mapwl, and the name indicated those knotty excrescences on the trunk from which the cabinet-maker got the mottled wood that was so highly prized in early times for the making of bowls and table-tops, for which fabulous prices have been paid.