The term sycamore spelled with an A has also been used for unrelated trees: the Great Maple, Acer pseudoplatanus, or plane trees, Platanus. The spelling "sycomore", with an O rather than an A as the second vowel is, if used, specific to Ficus sycomorus .<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
Ficus sycomorus is native to Africa south of the Sahel and north of the Tropic of Capricorn, also excluding the central-west rainforest areas. It also grows naturally in Lebanon, where Beirut's famous Gemmayzeh Street is derived from the tree's Arabic name, Gemmayz; in the southern Arabian Peninsula; in Cyprus; in very localised areas in Madagascar; and as a naturalised species in Israel, Palestine and Egypt. In its native habitat, the tree is usually found in rich soils along rivers and in mixed woodlands.
Ficus sycomorus grows to 20 m tall and has a considerable spread as can be seen from the photograph below left, with a dense round crown of spreading branchesTemplate:Clarify. The leaves are heart-shaped with a round apex, 14 cm long by 10 cm wide, and arranged spirally around the twig. They are dark green above and lighter with prominent yellow veins below, and both surfaces are rough to the touch. The petiole is 0.5–3 cm long and pubescent. The fruit is a large edible fig, 2–3 cm in diameter, ripening from buff-green to yellow or red. They are borne in thick clusters on long branchlets or the leaf axil. Flowering and fruiting occurs year-round, peaking from July to December. The bark is green-yellow to orange and exfoliates in papery strips to reveal the yellow inner bark. Like all other figs, it contains a latex.
According to botanists Daniel Zohary (b. 1926) and Maria Hopf (1914–2008),Template:Citation needed the ancient Egyptians cultivated this species "almost exclusively."Template:Clarify Remains of F. sycomorus begin to appear in predynastic levels and in quantity from the start of the third millennium BC. It was the ancient Egyptian Tree of Life.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Zohary and Hopf note that "the fruit and the timber, and sometimes even the twigs, are richly represented in the tombs of the Egyptian Early, Middle and Late Kingdoms." In numerous cases the parched fruiting bodies, known as sycons, "bear characteristic gashing marks indicating that this art, which induces ripening, was practised in Egypt in ancient times."<ref>Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 165</ref>
Although this species of fig requires the presence of the symbiotic wasp Ceratosolen arabicus to reproduce sexually, and this insect is extinct in Egypt, Zohay and Hopf have no doubt that Egypt was "the principal area of sycamore fig development."Template:Clarify Some of the caskets of mummies in Egypt are made from the wood of this tree. In tropical areas where the wasp is common, complex mini-ecosystems involving the wasp, nematodes, other parasitic wasps, and various larger predators revolve around the life cycle of the fig. The trees' random production of fruit in such environments assures its constant attendance by the insects and animals which form this ecosystem.
Judaism and Christianity
In the Bible, the sycomore is referred to seven times in the Old Testament [Hebrew שקמה shiqmah; Strong's number 8256) and once in the New Testament (Template:Lang-grc-gre sykomoraia or Template:Lang sykomorea;<ref>Template:LSJ.</ref> Strong's number 4809). Though it was not as common in Palestine, the sycomore was a very popular and valuable fruit tree in Jericho and Canaan.<ref name="moldenke 106 108">Template:Cite book</ref>Template:Dubious
- Hebrew Bible
- This verse implies that Ficus sycomorus could not survive in the mountainous regions of Palestine and Egypt<ref name="moldenke 106 108"/> ("He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost." Ps 78:47).
- King David appointed an officer to look after the olives and sycomores of the western foothills. Template:Bibleverse
- King Solomon made [up-market] cedars as common as sycomores. Template:Bibleverse = Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse
- In condemning his people's arrogance the prophet Isaiah also makes a contrast between sycomores and cedars. Template:Bibleverse
- The prophet Amos refers to his secondary occupation as a dresser or tender of sycomores Template:Bibleverse; this involved slashing the fruits to induce ripening.<ref>Zohary & Hopf supra</ref>
- In Luke's Gospel, Zacchaeus resorted to climbing a sycomore in order to get a better view of Jesus in Jericho. Template:Bibleverse
- Mishnah and Talmud
- In the Mishnah, in chapter 9 of tractate Shevi'it of order Zera'im, the borders of the various districts of the Land of Israel are delineated. The Upper Galilee is defined as the area north of Kfar Hananya where the sycomore does not grow; the Lower Galilee is the area south of Kfar Hananya where the sycomore does grow.
- The Talmud, tractate Berakhot mentions sycomore in reference to tithing and its subsequent appropriate blessing.
In Kikuyu mythology, the sycomore is a sacred tree. All sacrifices to Ngai, the supreme creator, were performed under the tree. Whenever the mugumo tree fell, it symbolised a bad omen and rituals had to be performed by elders in the society. Some of those ceremonies carried under the Mugumo tree are still observed to date.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref>
- Figweb.org - Ficus sycomorus
- PBS Nature documentary: The Queen of Trees (on the Sycamore fig in Kenya)