Easily distinguished from other trees by its mottled exfoliating bark, which flakes off in great irregular masses, leaving the surface mottled, and greenish-white, gray and brown in a camouflage pattern. Can grow to massive proportions, typically reaching up to 98 to 130 ft high and 4.9 to 6.6 ft in diameter. Leaves are alternate, palmately nerved, broadly-ovate or orbicular, four to nine inches long, truncate or cordate or wedge-shaped at base, decurrent on the petiole. Three to five-lobed by broad shallow sinuses rounded in the bottom; lobes acuminate, toothed, or entire, or undulate. They come out of the bud plicate, pale green coated with pale tomentum; when full grown are bright yellow green above, paler beneath. In autumn they turn brown and wither before falling. Petioles long, abruptly enlarged at base and inclosing the buds. Stipules with spreading, toothed borders, conspicuous on young shoots, caducous.
In its native range, it is often found in riparian and wetland areas. The sycamore is able to endure a big city environment and has been extensively planted as a shade tree.