Ficus sycomorus, Sycamore fig, fig-mulberry,
Shikma, שקמה, جمّيز

There are three kinds of virgins: a virgin woman, virgin soil, and a virgin sycomore.
Babylonian Talmud Nida 8b

Scientific name:  Ficus sycomorus L.
Common name:  Sycamore fig, fig-mulberry
Hebrew name:  שקמה
Arabic name:  جمّيز, Jummayz
Plant Family:  Moraceae, תותיים

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Life form:  Phanerophyte, tree
Stems:  Bark on young stems pale green with a soft powdery covering; on older stems, grey-green, fairly smooth, with scattered grey scales and pale brown patches where scales have fallen off. Slash pale pink with heavy latex flow.
Leaves:  Alternate, entire, smooth
Inflorescence:  Syconium, a hollow, spherical or flask-shaped inflorescence lined on the inside with numerous minute, apetalous, unisexual flowers
Flowers:  Green
Fruits / pods:  Green; globose or (ob)ovoid, yellow-red to reddish-purple when ripe, up to 3.5 x 5 cm, pubescent or almost glabrous
Flowering Period:  March, April, May, June, July, August
Habitat:  Light soils
Distribution:  Mediterranean Woodlands and Shrublands, Semi-steppe shrublands, Shrub-steppes
Chorotype:  Sudanian
Summer shedding:  Perenatng

Ficus sycomorus, Sycamore fig, fig-mulberry, Shikma,جمّيز,שקמה


Derivation of the botanical name:
Ficus, Latin for Ficus carica. The Latin words for fig - ficus, fica (and from them the English word "fig"), derive from the Hebrew word pag פג, meaning "unripe fig". Today the word pag refers to a premature infant.
sycomorus (Latin), from sykomoros (Greek), from sykon "fig" + moron "mulberry", due to the leaves' resemblance to those of the Mulberry.
A sycophant is an "informer, talebearer, slanderer," from Latin sycophanta, from Greek sykophantes, originally, "someone who shows the fig"; from sykon, "fig" plus phanein, "to show".
"Showing the fig" was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, itself symbolic of a woman's sex organ (sykon also meant "vulva").
  • The standard author abbreviation L. is used to indicate Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, the father of modern taxonomy.
Ficus sycomorus is a large tree with a thick trunk and leathery leaves. Because of their size and texture, these may be the kind of fig leaves referred to in Genesis 3:7 (Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.) because no other species of fig is native to the Middle East.
Pliny the Elder writes in his book Natural History - Books XIII Trees 56: " Egypt has many varieties of trees not found elsewhere - first and foremost the fig, which for this reason, is called the Egyptian fig. Its leaves resemble those of the mulberry in size and appearance. The fig produces its fruit not on branches but on the trunk itself, and the Egyptian variety is exceptionally sweet and seedless. The tree's yield is extremely prolific, but only when iron hooks are used to make incisions in the fruit, which otherwise does nor ripen. 57. When this is done the fruit is picked three days later, while another fig forms beneath it; the tree thus has seven crops of very juicy figs in a single summer.

The wood derived from this fig tree is of a peculiar kind but among the most useful of woods…" This was the original employment of the prophet Amos. The Bible (Amos 7:14) quotes him as saying: " Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycomore-fig trees. " There is some controversy concerning the translation. In the Hebrew version of the Bible, the occupation of Amos is given as "Boless Shikmim." "Shikma" is sycomore, but "Boless" appears only once in the Bible and its meaning is obscure. In the Septuaginta, the well known translation of the Bible into Greek (made in Alexandria about 200 BC), "Boless Shikmim" is translated as "Knizon Sycamina", namely a "piercer of sycomore figs," and not "gatherer." The translation of "Boless" as "piercer" seems logical, in view of the fact that Israeli sycomores are descended from the Egyptian and in ancient times were undoubtedly of the same varieties as in Egypt. Since the early dawn of human civilization and for many centuries thereafter, sycomore trees had been of high economic and cultural significance in the Near East.
Remains of the sycomore tree (wood, roots and fruit), discovered in Egypt, date as far back as the predynastic period; i.e., more than 3000 years BC. From Egyptian sources we know that in ancient times the sycomore tree was known as the "fig of Pharaoh," and Egypt as "the land where the sycomore tree blooms." The Egyptians considered its shadow as a delight. With its wood they built coffins for the mummies as the sycomore fig is one of the few trees in the region to obtain a girth great enough for this use. The wood, when properly dampened, cracked rocks, including granite. The wood of the sycomore was held in relatively higher esteem than its fruit. It was used extensively in building and wherever long and stout beams were needed. It is not known when the sycomore was brought to Israel from Egypt, but it is quite evident that this must have taken place very early in history, as the tree was once widespread in Israel in Biblical times. - So great was the value of these trees that David appointed for them in his kingdom a special overseer, as he did for the olives (1 Chronicles 27:28): " Baal-Hanan the Gederite was in charge of the olive and sycomore-fig trees in the western foothills. Joash was in charge of the supplies of olive oil." - It is mentioned as one of the heaviest of Egypt's calamities that her sycomore were destroyed with frost (Psalm 78:47): "He destroyed their vines with hailstones and their sycomore trees with frost." - Amos 7:14 refers to its fruit, which is of an inferior character; so also probably Jeremiah 24:2 "One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very poor figs, so bad they could not be eaten." - During the time of King Solomon (I Kings. 10:27)., " The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycomore-fig trees in the foothills.". - At Jericho Zacchaeus climbed a sycomore-tree to see Jesus as he passed by (Luke 19:4). "So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way."

In the Hebraic texts, the sycomore tree is often accompanied by the olive tree. The two trees both have the same knotty trunk, with the same knots. According to the texts, the major difference lies in their respective properties: the olive tree can withstand many days without being planted in the ground or watered, which makes it easy to transplant; the sycomore tree, on the other hand, dries out quickly. Also, the olive tree symbolizes reproduction while the sycomore tree symbolizes regeneration. The sycomore tree's ability to regenerate is impressive: For example if the wind uncovers its roots, it will grow even deeper into the ground, clinging solidly to it; if the sand covers its branches, they transform themselves into roots giving rise to new trees.
The sycomore's name in Hebrew - shikma - is drawn from the root sh. k. m., to restore, regenerate, reestablish. Accordingly, in Talmudic literature, mainly in the Mishna and the Tosephta, we find many rules governing use of the tree and its products.
In Israel, flowering and fruiting of the sycomore occur during the hot summer months. Up to 6 crops may be produced in 1 year by a single tree. The figs are found occasionally on trees even during winter months, but their number is usually small, and development very slow. The sycomore grows chiefly in the coastal plain and in the Jordan Valley.
In ancient Israel, sycomore was eaten mostly by the poor who could not afford the more expensive fruits. Over the years, the fruit of the sycomore has lost its importance. Other high-quality fruit trees have come into the region, and the sycomores are now gradually disappearing.

Bible resources:
  1. 1 Kings 10:27
    The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills.
  2. 1 Chronicles 27:28
    Baal-Hanan the Gederite was in charge of the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills. Joash was in charge of the supplies of olive oil.
  3. 2 Chronicles 1:15
    The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills.
  4. 2 Chronicles 9:27
    The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills.
  5. Psalm 78:47
    He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
  6. Amos 7:14
    Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.
  7. Luke 19:4
    So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

Native plants of Israel