The Sycamore Squeeze

To squeeze a Sycamore ball is a seasonal pleasure, and the season is now.
Now is when last year’s clusters of Sycamore seeds start to fall and to fall apart.
For the next few weeks, they’ll disintegrate into drifting piles of loose, fluffy achenes: Sycamore “snow.”

To squeeze a Sycamore seed-ball is oddly satisfying.
Call it a Contemplative Practice.
Call it fun or sick or weird, but try it.

The Sycamore Squeeze is one way to get to know Where—and When—you are.

And it’s one way to meet your Native Plant neighbors at every stage of their year.

***

HOW TO

  • Find a Sycamore tree.*
  • Look down for seed-balls on the ground.
  • Test. If a gentle push leaves an indentation, it’s ready.
  • Squeeze, smoosh, squish, or press fast or slow.
  • Repeat (there are plenty).
  • If a seed-ball isn’t ready, bring it inside a house for a day or so. Dry air hastens the squishable stage. When it gives, it’s ready to take.

Please note the nifty inner core of a brown, cratered marble, against which all the seeds grew snug in their sphere.

Those stalks are tough. See the multiple strings that make up one stem / peduncle?
Settlers used these fresh cores-on-stems as buttons, so one old name for Sycamore is Buttonball tree.

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Where?
Do you need help finding your nearest Sycamore?
All winter, you can look UP to find the bare trees with all-WHITE upper trunk and branches.
In natural areas areas, they’ll be near water.
In landscaped areas, they’ll be anywhere.
Also, all winter, you can look UP to see seedballs throughout the tree.

In February and March, you can look DOWN to see fallen seed-balls, or drifts of Sycamore snow at sidewalks, curbs, and storm grates.

***

Who eats all those seeds? Some winter seed-eating birds do—like finches—but Sycamore is low on the scale of Deliciousness. Still, a native tree is a native tree, so there will be many someones who have evolved with this species and who rely upon the seeds.

***

Sycamore = Platanus occidentalis.
achene = one-seeded fruit that does not open by itself.
peduncle = the stalk of a flower or fruit.

Here’s a quick video of the Sycamore Squeeze:

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Bio:
Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, Stonecrop Review, The Fourth River and other journals. Her forthcoming book is Paradise in a Parking Lot: Unlikely Stories from Urban Nature.

4 thoughts on “The Sycamore Squeeze

    1. I had to check the range map and then a map of Observations in iNaturalist, and it looks like people grow Platanus occidentalis and the hybrid Platanus acerifolia as landscape trees in the Pacific Northwest, so you *might* find one by a street tree or in an arboretum.

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