The Parklands

Living in a Sycamore Tree

With the threat of snow in the forecast, we were certain to get our hike in early on Sunday.  But this hike had a purpose other than depleting our children’s never ending supply of energy.  I had recently read an article on sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) and needed to prove to my family that what I learned was possible!  

Sycamores are water loving trees that shed their bark revealing white colored trunks towards the top. In ideal soil and conditions they can grow to over 150 feet tall. The Sycamore and Valley of the Giants hiking and biking trails in Beckley Creek Park are great places to see huge towering Sycamore trees. The reason these trees shed their bark is because they have such a rapid growth rate and the bark becomes frail and brittle. They also begin to hollow out when they reach between 300-400 years old. 

The article I read suggested that in Pioneer times, families would seek shelter in the 500-600 year old hollowed out sycamore trees they encountered while settling on new land and building their log cabins. They could also stable a horse or cow in the trees. My husband and children scoffed at this and said there was no way people could sleep inside a hollowed tree. 

I was born and raised in Oregon. On one of our family vacations we visited the Redwood Forest and drove our car through the trunk of a giant redwood tree.  So, the idea of a family hunkering down for the night in a sycamore tree wasn’t that shocking. But, I needed to prove my family of doubters wrong!


We bundled up and headed out for the Big Beech Trail in Pope Lick Park.  It was on our walk to the trailhead that I found the proof I needed.  We came across several hollowed sycamore trees along Floyds Fork that were large enough to comfortably provide shelter to my children. They had a great time climbing inside and imagining what it would have been like for those early settlers.

Today, you won’t see families taking up shelter in sycamore trees but you will find Wood Ducks, Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, Great Crested Flycatchers, Chimney Swifts, and Raccoons. 

Happy hiking and discovering!

Story by Suzy Stoffel. Suzy is an Interpretive Ranger at The Parklands. She enjoys helping children and families increase their scientific literacy through all the great programs and classes the park has to offer.  When she’s not at the park working she’s usually here with her family hiking or biking (her son is pictured here at one of the entrys to the Black Willow Trail).  Suzy is originally from Portland, Oregon but has spent time teaching and coaching volleyball in New York and Michigan. 

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