One of the less common fruits in Egypt is the sycamore fig, known locally as gemeiz جميز. In English, it is known as Sycamore, Sycomore, Fig Mulberry. In Turkish, it is known as cumbez.
The Sycamore fig tree should not be confused with other trees called sycamore in northern Europe, which are actually maples.
The tree is evergreen, grows to 20 meters high and 15-20 meters horizontally, and has large leaves that provide shade. Its natural habitat is alone rivers and streams in thickets.
Like all the fig trees, if bruised, a white latex exudes from the cut.
The fruits grow in clusters, and can be found for several months of the year in some places, April to June in some places and summer to December in others.
The tree does not bear seeds, and is hence human dependant in Egypt.
Sycamore is one of the few trees growing in Egypt since ancient times. Along with other trees in Egypt, its wood was used in various things.
Some wooden artifacts in Egyptian museums today are known to be made of sycamore trees. One such object is a statue of the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis in Alexandria's Greco-Roman museum.
The sycamore is mentioned in the Bible several times, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Amos 7:14, Jeremiah 24:2, Luke 19:4).
A tree in El Matareya near Cairo called the Virgin Mary Tree is said to be a resting spot of Mary, Jesus and Joseph and is a pilgrimage spot for Christians. The tree died in the 17th century and a new sapling in 1672 was planted. That died in 1906, and a new one was planted, which is what is present today. The tree is enclosed in a compound and the government charges admission fees to it. Both Coptic Christians and Muslims visit the site for healing by the Virgin (a practice that is unorthodox in Islam).
The wood from sycamore tree provides a source of timber in Egypt, a scarce commodity., causing Pharoahs to look north to the cedars of Lebanon for timber for their fleets.
Like all figs, it requires a certain species of wasp, Ceratosolen arabicus, to pollinate it.
The young fruit are nicked with a knife to encourage their ripening. The orangish fruit is not too sweet and has a distinctive, yet not strong taste.
In other places and cultures
In Turkish, the name of the tree and the fruit is cumbez, similar to the Egyptian gemeiz. In Famagusta, Cyprus, there is large tree besides a mosque called Lala Mustafa Camii. It is said to be the oldest tree in Cyprus, planted in the 13th century, making it more than 700 years old. It inspires art like this photograph by Hasan Bilgehan.