Sunnyside’s Living Piece of History: A Sycamore Bicentennial Tree

Ss Sycamore

When most people think of a historic site, they think in terms of its significant buildings. But sometimes that place is also home to a different kind of history—majestic old trees that date back to when those structures were built.

At Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, that living history comes in the form of the sky-high branches and massive trunk of a sycamore towering over the Visitor Center. Sycamores are known to be long-lived—sometimes up to 400 years or more—and this one predates the American Revolution. When Irving purchased the home in 1835, he did not know the age of this tree, and neither did the previous owner.

“I love this tree,” says Mary Ann Witte, a horticulturist employed by Historic Hudson Valley. “I want to know what this tree has seen. I know it’s a lot.”

In 1976, the International Society of Arboriculture and the National Arborist Association recognized the Washington Irving Sycamore as a Bicentennial Tree, a bronze plaque next to the tree notes that it has “lived here during the American Revolutionary period.’’

A tree this old and large doesn’t stay healthy without some help. Historic Hudson Valley works with Sav-A-Tree to make sure it gets the care it needs, including treatments every few years for a fungus common to sycamores. It even has a lightning rod helps protect it from electrical storms.

And just like any good celebrity, this sycamore has a couple of notable offspring. There are at least two other “Washington Irving Sycamores,” so-called because they were grown from the seed of the Sunnyside tree. One is in the arboretum of Washington Irving Park in Bixby, Okla. (Irving camped near Bixby during his 1832 tour of the American West.) The other is part of the collection at Union County College’s Historic Tree Grove in Cranford, N.J.

Today the tree is a favorite of school groups who visit Sunnyside as part of Historic Hudson Valley’s education programs. Children sometimes surround the tree, hands held, in an exercise to determine how many kids it takes to encircle the massive trunk.

And Sunnyside visitors awestruck by the tree’s size and natural beauty ensure that this majestic sycamore will live on in perpetuity—in photos on social media.

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