Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for December 23rd, 2011

Whose woods these are I just don’t know*

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Sycamores; click for greater detail.

When I went wandering through the woods in northwest Austin on December 20, I came upon the group of sycamores, Platanus occidentalis, shown above. Reputed to be the tallest of deciduous trees in America, the sycamore is known not only for its height but for its bark, which at a certain stage in the tree’s maturity peels off in pieces and leaves behind the near-white that you see here. That whiteness is present in all seasons, but only during the coldest months of the year, after the tree has shed its old leaves and before new ones grow out in the spring, does the bright inner bark become as conspicuous as it is when it shines through the otherwise mostly bleak winter woods.

As majestic as sycamores can be, veteran readers of this column have seen some saplings that are only a few feet tall. To learn more about sycamores, you can visit the website of The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; to see the many places in the eastern United States where sycamores grow, you can consult the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

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* The title is a reference to Robert Frost’s poem that begins “Whose woods these are I think I know.” In fact I don’t know who owns the unfenced land that includes these trees.

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2011 at 5:03 AM

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