Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sycamore seed balls and drying leaf

with 27 comments

Sycamore Leaf and Seed Globes 4562

Click for greater clarity and size.

Two posts back you saw some trunks of sycamore trees, Platanus occidentalis, reflected in Bull Creek on December 3, 2013. Now from the same visit here’s a closer view, upward and unreflected, of the distinctive seed balls this species produces. The drying leaf is a bonus.

If you’d like a retro-bonus, you can go back to a post from two years ago and have a close look at what one of these seed globes looks like when it comes undone. You can also revisit the remnants of a seed ball in a creek alongside a sparkling array of bubbles. And if you really want to make good on the more in sycamore, you can see one of its leaves changing color and rising into a wispy-cloud sky as an emblem of autumn.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2014 at 6:03 AM

27 Responses

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  1. Very interesting reveals of all these sycamore seed balls and leaves. You have quite an archive.


    January 26, 2014 at 6:42 AM

    • Sycamores are great trees, and I’ve been recording them in various stages for some years now. That’s proved relatively easy to do because not only are sycamores common along the creeks in northwest Austin, but plenty of people around town have planted them in their yards.

      Archive is the very word I use for my set of hard drives with tens of thousands of pictures on them. Being an archivist is a necessary part of being a photographer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 26, 2014 at 8:41 AM

  2. During a hike in December on a bright sunny day, the white trunks of the Sycamores really stood out from the overall grays of the rest of the treeless woods.

    Jim in IA

    January 26, 2014 at 7:10 AM

  3. Amazing!


    January 26, 2014 at 10:25 AM

  4. I love Sycamores! And this branch looks like a stick insect with little booties on! I’m going to have to confirm here whether the trees I’ve captured a couple weeks ago are in fact Sycamore Maples (as I believe they are) or Sycamores. Either way I think they’re stunning trees, both of them. I love their “skin”, its smooth and contrasting colors. They’re a tree that I think people miss a lot but they really get to shine in the winter up here when their leaves aren’t hiding their “skin”!

    Seed balls are pretty awesome too. I like Sweet Gum tree seed balls. Got some macro shots a few weeks ago, they look like open beaks all bunched together! Your sycamore seed ball coming undone is a good capture.



    January 26, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    • Welcome to the club of sycamore sympathizers. Your first description is a novel one, an incongruous one and therefore quite imaginative. Like you, I’ve been fascinated by the way sycamore bark can gleam through winter woods once there are no leaves to block the view. I showed a picture of that a couple of years ago:


      I wish sweetgums were native in Austin because, as you say, their seed balls (“open beaks all bunched together”) are as photogenic as those of the sycamore. Fortunately I’ve got plenty of those in Austin to play with.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 26, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      • Well that’s good you’ve at least got the Sycamores. The sweetgums up close really look like something out of a sci-fi movie, I love it!


        January 26, 2014 at 11:27 AM

  5. pom poms


    January 26, 2014 at 7:09 PM

  6. They are such gorgeous trees, even in winter when the foliage is gone…Great photo.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 26, 2014 at 10:36 PM

    • Thanks, Charlie. The sycamore is among my favorite trees to portray, especially when the foliage falls away to reveal a gleaming trunk and branches.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 26, 2014 at 11:18 PM

  7. This is a stunning photo – simple and clean, with just the perfect break in the pattern from that single leaf. Nature always gets it so right.

    Mary Mageau

    January 27, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    • I’m glad you like the simplicity here, Mary. I’m fond of simplicity, but sometimes its opposite appeals to me too, as in the photograph from the following post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2014 at 10:07 AM

  8. Your photograph reminds me of music notes. Perhaps a line from Song of the Sycamore?
    This is one of my favorite trees, because I love the smell of them in the rain and they are so stately in their growth. Our new place has a couple of them growing there. Lucky me!


    January 27, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    • So I went looking just for fun to see if there was a Song of the Sycamore. Turns out there were several written about her, but of all of them only this one appealed to me. Gotta love that old time music!


      January 27, 2014 at 7:21 AM

      • I never would’ve thought of searching for a song about a sycamore: good for you for finding this.

        I looked up Mort Dixon, the lyricist, and found that he also wrote the words for “That Old Gang Of Mine” (1921), “Bye Bye Blackbird” (1926), “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” (1927), and “I Found a Million Dollar Baby.”

        The composer, Harry Woods, is known for “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)” and “Try a Little Tenderness.”

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 27, 2014 at 8:21 AM

        • In the summer of 1963, I sat on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Iowa City and sang about that “Red, Red Robin” to calm my nerves before competing in a speech competition. Fifty years ago!


          January 27, 2014 at 8:39 AM

          • I’ve been noticing more of those half-century marks too, and a few that even reach six decades. Tempus fugit (and you sang your song so as not to fidget).

            Steve Schwartzman

            January 27, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    • Linda-with-an-i commented right after you that she also saw the seed balls as musical notes. You’re lucky indeed to have a couple of sycamores on your new property. Wear them well (so to speak).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2014 at 10:36 AM

  9. As many sycamore trees as I’ve encountered, I surely have come across some of their seed balls, but I don’t recall seeing them apart from your photos. Fox Creek, which flows through the bottomland section of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve has some magnificent examples of the tree, but I didn’t notice any seeds. The leaves hadn’t fallen yet, so the seedballs may have been hiding among them.

    The photo itself reminds me of musical notes on a staff. Who knows what song the tree sings?


    January 27, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    • Each sycamore has both male and female flowers, so every tree is capable of creating seed balls after fertilization. It’s curious that you haven’t seen any, but I bet you will in the next year, now that you’re attuned to them.

      You and Lynda-with-a-y, consecutive commenters, saw the seed globes in this horizontal photograph as musical notes. I’m reminded of a PBS commercial in which a composer who’s struggling for inspiration sees some black birds on parallel power lines and is suddenly inspired to interpret the birds as notes. I’m also reminded that today is Mozart’s birthday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2014 at 10:26 AM

  10. This is lovely with the blue sky and framing. I had a hard time accepting the fact that a beautiful Sycamore tree I used to know in FL was chopped down. It belonged to a small hotel and they said the tree was sick and that it had a fungus, which was true, because where I stayed I had the tree right in front of me and saw the fungus with my own eyes. Nevertheless, the tree was still alive, at least 80% of it was, so I didn’t fully understood the reason they chopped it down. It was so full of wildlife, even a Red-bellied Woodpecker nested in it. I’ve realised even when trees get fungi, they may still live several years with the fungi; apparently the fungi doesn’t kill the tree right away.

    • I think property owners err on the side of safety and have an ailing tree cut down before any part of it might fall and do damage to people and property below. Still, I sympathize with you over the loss of that sycamore you liked in Florida. On the positive side, sycamores are common in many regions, and fortunately they grow quickly. Here in the Texas Hill Country I see many new sycamores springing up along creeks each year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2014 at 10:32 AM

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