Oct 18th, 2014

Every Tree Tells a Story: A Garden Grown Around a Sycamore Tree

by Alex Arzt, Exhibit Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

In conjunction with Every Tree Tells a Story, the photography exhibit in the Kelly Education Center’s Ginter Gallery II, we’re  highlighting a few special trees in the Garden. One of my favorite trees here is the Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) in the Margaret Streb Conifer Garden.

the sycamore in streb garden

The sycamore in Streb Garden, at the north end of Lake Sydnor, before it was Streb Garden.

Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin B. White, Jr. donated this garden in memory of Mrs. White’s mother, Margaret Streb. The garden was designed and installed by the garden staff in 1996. It is located at the far end of the lake, under the spreading branches of this elegant old sycamore. Though the garden was planted almost 20 years ago, the sycamore has stood on the property for much longer.

This photograph from our archives was taken in 1995 on the edge of Sydnor Lake before the conifer garden was planted. This sycamore has seen a lot! In its time here, the landscape has evolved, and this tree  is a living reminder of the vast histories enclosed within our ever-resilient trees. This photograph for me represents the transformational power of gardening and also how much Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has grown in its relatively short history of 30 years. Compare this photo to one of the Streb Garden today:

streb garden in 2014

The Streb Garden today.

The sycamore is easy to spot among the conifers because of its large canopy and its characteristic white crown, which is most visible in the fall and winter. The distinguishing feature of this tree is its mottled exfoliating bark which flakes off in irregular sheets leaving the surface with patterns like pieces of a puzzle.

In May the sycamore bears small flowers in dense heads and after fertilization the fruits grow into one-inch balls. They hang from stringy stalks which dangle from the tree all winter then fall apart in early spring to disperse the seeds. The oldest known sycamores reach 400 years old. We can only hope this one will still be standing in 2350.

And don’t forget, our #TREEstory Instagram contest continues until Nov. 2, 2014.  Whether it’s right here in the garden or in your neighborhood, every tree tells its own story and we’d love to see and read about your tree story in our contest.

The Every Tree Tells a Story exhibition at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is on loan from The Cultural Landscape Foundation, and has been made possible with generous support from presenting sponsor, The Davey Tree Expert Company.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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