Written by guest blogger Ruth Snowden
Sycamore trees are not native to Britain – they originated in mountainous regions in Central Europe and were introduced here, possibly in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. However, there is a carving in Oxford Cathedral, dated 1282, which suggests that they may have been here for a lot longer.
They are very hardy trees, happily growing in exposed places like Sycamore Gap, and close to the sea where salt winds blow. Because of this they were often planted as shelter belts around farmsteads and you can still spot them there today. You will also find them in parkland and fields, where they are widely used to provide shade and protection for livestock. Look for a large, spreading tree, up to 35 metres in height and sometimes wider than it is tall. The bark is smooth grey, gradually cracking to form small irregular plates on the mature tree. The leaves are broad, with five lobes, dark green above and pale below. In autumn they often develop black spots of fungus, but this does not harm the tree.
Sycamores belong to the maple family. The smaller, native, field maple was often used to make harps, and sycamore wood was widely used to make kitchen furniture, bowls, chopping boards, wooden spoons, and other cooking tools. The tree can easily be coppiced – which means it is cut right back and soon grows lots of new shoots and fresh wood.
The much lamented tree at Sycamore Gap was famous all over the world. Another very famous sycamore is the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ tree in Dorset. Beneath this tree a group of disgruntled farm labourers met in 1834, and their discussions led to the formation of what was probably the first agricultural union. They were transported to Australia as a punishment, but were pardoned two years later and offered passage home.
Sycamores spread very easily because they have ingenious winged seeds or ´keys’, which come in pairs. These are blown off the tree by autumn winds and sail far and wide like little helicopters. If you find a sycamore tree the children will need no encouragement on a windy day to run around and try to catch these as they whirl past. According to the the folk lore of my own childhood, there is a bonus too – if you are skilful enough to catch one, you can make a wish. Unfortunately I can’t tell you if this is true or not, because I have forgotten what my childhood wishes were!
When they have worn themselves out with all that excitement and dashing around, get the children to collect some fallen leaves and sycamore keys and bring them home to make a beautiful autumn collage. Or you can turn a leaf upside down, put a sheet of paper over it, and make a leaf rubbing with wax crayons, showing off the pattern of veins.
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If this has inspired you have a look at the Forest Childcare More Ideas for Forest Childcare All Year Round pack. It contains lots more ideas and information like above as well as additional crafts and resources to help you explore and discover the natural world with your children. You can find more information by following this link:
If you are a childminder, nanny or small early years provider you may also be interested in finding out how to join the Forest Childcare Association and reap the benefits of regular outdoor outings for your children, your business and yourself. For more information and to find out how to join for just £15 use the link below: