Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

See subsp. sycomorus for general description. This subspecies differs considerably. It is a generally smaller tree without the thick, butressed trunk; fruits are borne singly in the axils of the leaves and are generally larger, up to c. 4.5 cm in diameter, ripening to orange-green. It also prefers a different habitat, generally being found in hilly woodland areas of higher rainfall and altitudes, usually away from rivers or floodplains.
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Derivation of specific name

gnaphalocarpa: appears to refer to the fruits being like those of a Gnaphalium, a genus of herbs in Asteraceae. The reason, however is obscure.
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Description

Large spreading tree with a short thick trunk. All parts exude a milky latex. Bark very characteristically yellowish, smooth, flaking in irregular patches. Leaves alternate, broadly ovate to almost round, very stiff and often rough to the touch, dull yellowish green; venation prominent below, somewhat 3-veined from the base with 4-8 pairs of lateral veins. Figs borne in large branched clusters from the main stem and larger branches, subspherical, up to 3 cm in diameter, usually densely, finely hairy, yellow, pink or red when ripe. See subsp. gnaphalocarpa for differences.
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Derivation of specific name

sycomorus: probably a combination of sykon, greek for fig, and morus, the name for mulberry
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Botanical Description

Bole: Buttressed. Medium. To 30 m. Bark: Pale grey/yellow-green. Smooth. Slash: NR. Leaf: Simple. Alternate. Petiole: 1 - 4 cm. Lamina: Medium. 3 - 12 × 2 - 11 cm. Ovate. Cordate/cuneate. Obtuse. Entire/slightly serrate. Glabrous/hairy on the nerves. Domatia: Absent. Glands: NR. Stipules: 0.5 - 2.5 cm. long. Hairy. Falling. Thorns & Spines: Absent. Flower: Syconia solitary or in pairs in the leaf axils or just below. Fruit: Fig white/yellow/brown. Hairy. Subglobose. 1.5 - 5 cm in diameter.
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Distribution

Worldwide distribution

From Senegal to Ethiopia, down to Namibia and the northern Cape and Limpopo, S Africa
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Worldwide distribution

From Syria and Saudi Arabia, throughout most of Africa down to KwaZulu-Natal, S Africa. Also in Madagascar and the Comores
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Arabian Peninsula; coastal Tanzania; Comoro Islands; eastern Africa; Eastern Arc Mountains; Lake Malawi region; Lake Tanganyika region; Lake Victoria region; Madagascar; northern Tanzania; southern Africa
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Scales prevent structural penetration: fig
 

The inflorescence of a fig is protected from insect penetration by overlapping scales.

     
  "The gall wasp that lands on the fig's inflorescence is always a female. She has already mated and is needing to deposit her eggs. She begins to force her way into the tiny hole in the inflorescence. This is not easy for the entrance is guarded by overlapping scales." (Attenborough 1995:141)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Ficus sycomorus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ficus sycomorus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 8
Specimens with Barcodes: 12
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

shade; household; building; beehives; furniture; utensils; food
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Wikipedia

Ficus sycomorus

Ficus sycomorus in Ethiopia

Ficus sycomorus, called the sycamore fig or the fig-mulberry (because the leaves resemble those of the Mulberry), sycamore, or sycomore, is a fig species that has been cultivated since ancient times. (The term sycamore spelled with an A has been used for a variety of plants and is widely used in England to refer to the Great Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). For clarity, this species of fig is usually exclusively referred to as "sycomore" (with an O rather than an A as the second vowel).

Distribution[edit]

Cluster of sycomore fig synconia

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 the famous Gemmayzeh Street is named after its Arabic name Gemmayz, the southern Arabian Peninsula, in Cyprus and in very localized areas in Madagascar, and has been naturalised in Israel and Egypt. In its native habitat, the tree is usually found in rich soils along rivers and in mixed woodlands.

Description[edit]

Ficus sycomorus grows to 20 m tall and 6 m wide with a dense round crown of spreading branches[clarification needed]. 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.

Cultivation[edit]

According to botanists Daniel Zohary (b. 1926) and Maria Hopf (1914-2008), the ancient Egyptians cultivated this species "almost exclusively."[clarification needed] Remains of F. sycomorus begin to appear in predynastic levels and in quantity from the start of the third millennium BCE. It was the ancient Egyptian Tree of Life.[1] 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 practiced in Egypt in ancient times."[2]

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."[clarification needed] 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.

Gardens[edit]

In the Near East F. sycomorus is an orchard and ornamental tree of great importance and very extensive use. It has wide-spreading branches and affords shade.

In literature[edit]

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 (Greek συκοαμωραια sycomorea; Strong's number 4809).

  • In the Psalms, sycomores are listed with vines as sources of food destroyed in the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians Ps 78:47
  • King David appointed an officer to look after the olives and sycomores of the western foothills 1Chron 27:28
  • King Solomon made [up-market] cedars as common as sycomores 1Kings 10:27 = 2Chron 1:15,2Chron 9:27
  • In condemning his people's arrogance the prophet Isaiah also makes a contrast between sycomores and cedars Isaiah 9:10.
  • The prophet Amos refers to his secondary occupation as a dresser or tender of sycomores Amos 7:14; this involved slashing the fruits to induce ripening (vd citation from Zohary & Hopf supra)
  • In Luke's Gospel, little Zacchaeus resorted to climbing a sycomore in order to get a better view of Jesus in Jericho Luke 19:4.
  • 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 Galillee is defined as the area north of Kfar Hananya where the sycamore does not grow; the Lower Galillee is the area south of Kfar Hananya where the sycamore does grow.
  • The Talmud, tractate Berkhoth mentions sycomore in reference to tithing and its subsequent appropriate blessing
  • In Luke's Gospel, the Fig tree is used as a parable [3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Death and salvation in ancient Egypt", Jan Assmann, David Lorton, Translated by David Lorton, p171, Cornell University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8014-4241-9
  2. ^ Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 165
  3. ^ bibleverse Luke 13:6–9
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