On the Sycamore: The Twelve Sacred Trees of North America — Part Eight

“Birds singing in the Sycamore Tree.  Dream a little dream of me.”  ~ Ella Fitzgerald

Sole surviving members of the family Platanaceae, sycamore trees as we know them (in the United States, at least) are not true sycamore trees. Named so by colonizers who came from Britain and were homesick for their own sycamore trees back home, which were, in turn, brought by Crusaders from the Middle East, our own sycamore tree shares little in common with these old world trees but for their large leaves and, perhaps, a certain spirit. To much of the world, they are instead called “buttonwood trees” or, more usually, “American Plane trees” (so named because of its broad leaves), of which a few cousins exist in Britain which our own trees readily cross-breed with.

What sets the sycamore of the United States apart, however, is that each year as it grows it sloughs off its old bark to reveal bare, white arms beneath. This has earned it the nicknames “the white lady” and “the ghost of the plains”. Those growing in America are the tallest, with some reaching as high as 165 feet. They are drought-tolerant, accepting of the pollution of human cities, and produce each year a spikey seed ball which is a favorite of children to lob at one another.

There are many famous sycamores in the United States, such as the Lafayette Sycamore, which provided George Washington and Lafayette with shelter during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. Wallstreet bore one, which provided the name for the Buttonwood Agreement, and another (now uprooted) stood at Ground Zero in New York City during 9/11. This last tree is tragically gone, though art has been made to resemble its roots and mark the location.

Sleep beneath a piece of sycamore wood if you would like it to watch over your sleep and grant you pleasant dreams. The sycamore tree is a watchful guardian, and no piece of its wood is too small to extend this protection towards you. For this reason, many may use the wood to host decorative weavings above their beds, and this is certainly advisable.

Prone to hollowing out as they grow over the years, the wood is not considered ideal for construction, but is beloved of wildlife, playing host to numerous animal nests. Bald eagles, a well-known symbol of our country, frequently make their nests on sycamores, as do wood ducks, squirrels, and woodpeckers. Because sycamores grow so readily and quickly, they provide numerous opportunities for animals seeking refuge. In the past, this same tendency to hollow out made them a favorite choice for Native American tribes to hollow out for canoes.

The sycamore is a tree linking the world of the spirits with the world of the living, and is beloved of all goddesses, particularly Hera, Isis, Hathor, Artemis, Freya, and Morana. Make a wand from sycamore if you would wield Their divine power in your spellwork, or if you wish a graceful touch in your weavings.

A sycamore planted on your property will provide not only a gathering place for animals, but for the spirits as well. Watch the wind shake the white limbs of the sycamore and interpret the dance as the spirits speak through the wood. Make offerings at the base of the tree for the departed, and leave cakes of honey there for the land spirits.

If you would have the protection of the spirits for your home, bury the spikey balls of the sycamore tree in a circle around your property. Water them with pure, fresh running water, and the spirits will work to protect your boundaries.

[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]

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