This tree mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures has no relation to the North American sycamore, which is a type of plane tree. It is evidently the same as the “fig-mulberry” tree of Luke 19:4. This tree (Ficus sycomorus) has fruit like that of the common fig, but its foliage resembles that of the mulberry. It grows to a height of 10 to 15 m (33 to 50 ft), is strong, and may live for several hundred years. Unlike the common fig, the sycamore (fig-mulberry) is an evergreen. While its heart-shaped leaves are smaller than those of the fig tree, the foliage is thick and wide-spreading, and the tree provides good shade. It was frequently planted along roadsides for that reason. The short, stout trunk soon branches out with its lower limbs close to the ground, and this made it a convenient tree along the roadside for a small man like Zacchaeus to climb in order to get a view of Jesus.—Lu 19:2-4.
The figs grow in abundant clusters and are smaller than those of the common fig tree and are inferior to them. It is the present practice of Egyptian and Cypriot growers of the sycamore (fig-mulberry) trees to pierce the premature fruit with a nail or other sharp instrument in order to make the fruit edible. The wounding, or piercing, of sycamore figs at an early ripening stage induces a sharp increase in the emanation of ethylene gas, which accelerates the growth and ripening of the fruit considerably (three to eight times). This is important since otherwise the fruit will not fully develop and will stay hard or it will be spoiled by parasitic wasps that penetrate the fruit and inhabit it for reproduction. This sheds some light on the occupation of the prophet Amos, who describes himself as “a herdsman and a nipper of figs of sycamore trees.”—Am 7:14.
In addition to growing in the Jordan Valley (Lu 19:1, 4) and around Tekoa (Am 1:1; 7:14), the sycamore trees were especially abundant in the lowlands of the Shephelah (1Ki 10:27; 2Ch 1:15; 9:27), and though their fruit was not of the quality of the common fig tree, King David considered it of sufficient value to place the Shephelah groves under the care of an administrative chief. (1Ch 27:28) The sycamore (fig-mulberry) trees were evidently abundant in Egypt at the time of the Ten Plagues, and they continue to provide a source of food there today. (Ps 78:47) The wood is somewhat soft and porous and quite inferior to that of the cedar, but it was very durable and much used in building. (Isa 9:10) Mummy cases made of sycamore wood have been found in Egyptian tombs and are still in good condition after some 3,000 years.