This is a "Best of Wendy Langhans"
Last week I went for a walk along the river. It was a lovely day for walking - plenty of sunshine - and neither too hot nor too cold. The embankment was lined by a graceful arch of trees. I noticed the patchy grey, flaking tree bark and decided these were sycamore trees.
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But this wasn’t one of the paseos lining the Santa Clara river. I was in Rome, strolling “Il Lungotevere ” (along the Tiber river). And that building in the distance wasn’t the latest ride at Magic Mountain. It was the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
So what were “our” sycamore trees doing in Rome? Well, as it turns out, they were not OUR sycamore trees. I was creating a mental map of the world, based on my California perspective. But I wasn’t the first person to do that - the Europeans who came here created a mental map based on their perspective. I suspect that’s why our Western sycamore (Platanus racemosa ) was given the name “Sycamore”; to the Europeans, it resembled  their European sycamore.
The trees I saw in Rome were actually Sycamore Maples (Acer pseudoplatanus ). They originated in the mountains of Central Europe and have become “one of the most common tree species in urban areas of central Europe.” They can live up to 500 years, which seems like a “drop in the bucket” compared to history of Rome. For example, Ponte Fabricio, the oldest surviving bridge in Rome, was built in 62 B.C.
Both our Western sycamores and the European Sycamore Maples share a common habitat preference. Both require a good water supply, but avoid soil that is too wet. And both provide good shade. That’s one reason why our paseos along the Santa Clara river, and the walkways on the embankments above the Tiber River, are shaded by sycamores. After all, as Shakespeare once put it, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
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