Arbor Day: April 26, 2024

I’d always heard about a huge sycamore tree that grows just off Centerville Road in East Hempfield Township. However, curiosity never got the best of me until a late winter’s day in March, when coming across Old Tree Drive, I decided to find it.

The tree, which is hard to miss, definitely bears some impressive credentials. Considered to be the oldest sycamore tree in Lancaster County, it was probably a sapling even before William Penn launched his grand experiment and welcomed those seeking religious freedom to a place that came to be called Pennsylvania. The tree stands on land that was part of the 1718 Penn Grant through which land was deeded to settlers in what became Lancaster County. Yes, that means the tree is no doubt more than 300 years old. Some estimate it to be as old as 375. (The PA Forestry Association declared it to be more than 300 years old in 1982.) Over the years, it’s been documented as being the state’s “most massive tree,” as well as its “oldest sycamore.” It stood watch over a farmhouse that dates to the 1800s and was witness to the development of the Old Sycamore Industrial Park that grew around it in the 20th century.

The tree is massive and boasts a main trunk that measures approximately 27 feet in circumference. A lightning strike in 1957 may have hollowed out the trunk but it didn’t not destroy the tree’s lifeforce. It lives on, spilling its massive branches across the lawn. One is supported by a brace that prevents it from falling to the ground. A plaque that was dedicated by the AKA Worldwide Arbor Day Foundation on April 27, 2018, declares, “A more heroic site would be hard to find in the world of trees.”

According to various websites, the sycamore, which is also known as a buttonwood and plane tree (the names of streets in the complex so honor its presence), is a fast-growing and resilient deciduous tree that can grow as high as 100 feet tall. Known for its distinctive, shedding/mottled bark, its botanical name is Plantanos (oriental plane tree) occidentalis (western). Europeans referred to it as “sycamore” because its foliage resembled that of the sycamores that grew in the British Isles. Native Americans relied on the tree’s wood to create canoes. It is native to southeast Canada and the central/eastern United States. As one website noted, “it’s a tree that commands attention.”

Located at 265 Plane Tree Drive, just off Centerville Road/Route 30.

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