The common name refers to the unrelated eastern fig or Ficus sycomorus which has large palm-shaped leaves too.

The scientific one reveals that this tree belongs to the genus Acer - the maples - while pseudoplatanus means "false plane". In Latin, acer means "sharp" as maple wood was good for making spears.

Easily the largest member of the maple family in Europe, this large round-topped tree can reach 40m in height with a 1.5m girth trunk.

It is not native to Britain. Its real home is high ground in southern and central Europe extending northwards to Paris and east to the Caucasus.

When and who first introduced sycamore to Britain is uncertain. It may have been the Romans but it was still scarce here in the 16th century and has only really become established over the last 200 years.

The sycamore is hardy in lowland Britain up to about 500m above sea level. It is a tough tree, withstanding exposure and industrial pollution and salt-laden winds along the coasts. It is a useful windbreak both round upland farms and in coastal areas.

In spring, the small pale green flowers hang in clusters. Along with field maple and limes, sycamore is the only common tree with insect pollinated flowers and is a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees.

The bunches of fertilised flowers develop into winged seeds or "helicopters". When ripe, they spin away from the parent tree in the autumn wind.

The thick foliage casts a dense summer shade when hordes of aphids and other flying insects may infest sycamores. Aphids feeding on the leaves drop large quantities of honeydew.

Sycamore is a deciduous species - the large palm-shaped leaves on their long stalks fall off as winter approaches.

Sycamore timber is creamy-white, clean and free from unpleasant smells or tastes, making it ideal for uses associated with food. It is widely used for furniture making and joinery and is excellent for flooring. The hard, strong timber can be worked to a very smooth finish but it is not durable out-of-doors without preservative treatment.

The tarspot fungus, common on the leaves, does no major damage apart from reducing the photosynthetic area.

The grey-green bark is thin and smooth in young trees, turning flaky in older ones and is often stripped off by the alien grey squirrel. Entire trees or tree-tops are often killed.

Occasional trees produce "wavy-grained" or "fiddle-back" wood. Very valuable and highly prized by cabinetmakers and craftworkers, this is reserved for making the best violins, other musical instruments and veneers.

Sycamore has naturalised in the British Isles and is spreading too, particularly in native woodlands. It regenerates freely from seed, notably in woods where dog's mercury dominates the ground flora.

Because it is invasive and exotic, sycamore is a controversial tree which some conservation bodies try to eradicate where it threatens to take over remnant ancient woodlands.