This Western Sycamore

This western sycamore is a living witness to nearly four centuries. Growing since the 1640s, this venerable plane tree stands sentinel near Daly Science.

It was ancient long before there was a college or a mission. Notes Lee Panich, associate professor of archeology: “The tree has been more or less the crossroads of everything that has happened at Santa Clara in the last 250 years.”

IN THE SHADE

Mission Santa Clara was founded in 1777 and moved several times, to where it now stands. As the third Mission Church rose, the sycamore stood on the edge of the Rancheria village surrounding it. Later, some of the first American squatters who took over the old mission lived right across from the tree. The area was called the California Hotel and was one of the first notable American landmarks in Santa Clara.

Photo by Edward Rooks
Photo by Lee Panich

HUNTING GROUNDS

The 374-year old tree casts its shadow across very different eras. When the Thamien were the only people to call this valley home, they hunted deer here.

DEEP ROOTS

The sycamore is the oldest tree on campus. Platanus racemosa is known for longevity—living between 200 and 500 years of age. Sycamores are thirsty and thrive alongside wetlands and streams, like one that ran through the area years ago and created a strong foundation for the tree. While the stream no longer flows through campus, this tree “isn’t ready to give up anytime soon,” says Chris Young, assistant director of buildings and grounds.

Photo by Getty Images
Image by iStock

BARK BEAUTY

The sycamore’s bark is smooth to the touch—almost skin-like. Its wood is sturdy, and native peoples have used sycamores to build canoes up to 65 feet long. The burls on the tree lend themselves to carving; writer Sylvia V. Linsteadt notes that in the Chumash language, the word for sycamore and bowl is the same: khsho.

post-image Photo courtesy SCU Archives
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