[Heb., sha·qamʹ or shiq·mahʹ].
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 thirty feet (9.1 meters) or more, is strong, and may live for several hundred years. Unlike the common fig, the sycamore (fig-mulberry) is an ever-green. 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 for a small man like Zacchaeus to select as the one he would climb along the roadside to get a view of Jesus.—Luke 19:2-4.
The figs grow in abundant clusters and are smaller and inferior to those of the common fig tree. It is the present practice of Egyptian growers of the sycamore (fig-mulberry) trees to pierce the premature fruit with a nail or other sharp instrument in order to accelerate the ripening process. According to Harold and Alma Moldenke in their book Plants of the Bible (p. 108), if this is not done the fruit “will secrete a quantity of watery juice and will not ripen.” 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.”—Amos 7:14.
In addition to growing in the Jordan valley (Luke 19:1, 4) and around Tekoa (Amos 1:1; 7:14), the sycamore trees were especially abundant in the lowlands of the Shephelah (1 Ki. 10:27; 2 Chron. 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. (1 Chron. 27:28) The sycamore (fig-mulberry) trees were evidently abundant in Egypt at the time of the ten plagues, and 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 coffins made of sycamore wood have been found in Egyptian tombs and are still in good condition after some three thousand years.