In the spring, summer, and autumn, the business of deciduous tree identification is usually carried out by examining leaves, flowers, and fruit. In the winter and early spring, one is frequently left with little more than bark for identification.
Often the bark of many different trees looks very similar. The lower bark of an American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis, Platanaceae) is no exception. However, if you look up the tree you’ll find that the bark becomes very unique:
This camo-like pattern is indicative of sycamores. Outer bark doesn’t grow as mature trees grow; it must stretch to accommodate the increasing surface area, or fracture under the stress. Sycamores follow the latter approach. The bark shreds into various multicolored layers, creating the pattern seen above.
American sycamore leaves look like giant maple leaves, but they’re in a different family. Sycamores are in the planetree family (Platanaceae), while maples are in the family Aceraceae. You can often find an abundance of these large, unique leaves littering the ground from autumn through spring in eastern North America. If you find them, you can probably look up and see the distinct camo-pattern bark of a sycamore.