Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sycamore leaf ~ Elizabeth Smith

Sycamore leaf, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

This leaf is from my recent trip to Copeland, Florida to draw and paint the Bula Baptist Mission church. There was a small stand of trees nearby, and I picked up some of the fallen leaves to paint later. Most of the fallen leaves were monotonously brown in color, but this particular one still had some green turning to a warm reddish brown (later it faded to an even medium brown color).

I used two pigments to create a brown and to liven up and exaggerate the colors I saw: Daniel Smith Sap Green and Cadmium Red. I added the veins later with a dark-brown watercolor pencil. I’m still testing the Strathmore Windpower Watercolor sketchbook, which is the paper I used for this study. The spiral bound 6x9 book is loaded with 15 sheets of 140 lb. cold-press paper and is a good value for the cost (under $10.00).

Sycamore trees are not common in Southwest Florida – they’re almost always planted as part of a landscaped home or institution. They are more common in the wild in north Florida, and are trees that prefer floodplains, although they adapt well to other habitats.

Their distinctive features: out-sized, broad palmate leaves; thin plate-like bark in mottled cream and brown colors, and a large height and spreading leaf crown. I’ve found the leaves to be great subjects for study because of the strong veins and interesting shapes they take when drying.

Interesting facts about sycamores in Florida:

•We have two co-champion trees, one in Orange County and one in Alachua County. Champion trees are documented as the largest representative tree of their species. If you’re a fan of big trees, you may want to visit these sites online:
American Forests
Native Tree Society (scroll down to BigTree/Tall Tree listings in the left navigation pane).

•We have sycamores growing here that traveled to the moon! Well, the seeds did, anyway. Hundreds of various species of tree seeds traveled on the Apollo 14 mission to the moon on January 31, 1971 as part of a joint NASA/USFS project. The seeds were germinated upon return to earth, and seedlings ended up at the University of Gainesville, The Kennedy Space Center, and Cascades Park in Tallahassee.

~ Elizabeth Smith, Naples, Florida, USA


  1. I just love sycamore trees. Their bark is so beautiful when they have a little age. There are legends about the tree. Stories told by Indians. I wish I could think of the one about the lovers that were turned into sycamores. Sort of a Romeo and Juliet story. Love your painting. You captured those fall colors on that leaf.

  2. Thanks, Lisa! Sycamore leaves here in Florida are not very colorful as a rule, so it was a bit of a challenge. I looked for mythology about these trees, but could only find the references to the Egyptian sycamores standing at the gate to heaven, which are (I believe) are sycamore figs, and different from this species. I'd love to hear more if you come across the legend!

  3. Beautiful page, Elizabeth! Love how you danced the poem along the leaf's edge :)

  4. Beautiful leaf and just right for the poetry.

  5. Hi Elizabeth, I just left a comment on your Flickr page. Great study of the leaf and adding words!


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