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Sycamore

tree, wood, bark, timber and shade

SYCAMORE, a name applied originally to Ficus sycofflorus, a tree known in biblical times and places, and the legendary one chosen by Zacthmus to climb into for a sight of the Saviour. It is a species of fig, an evergreen timber tree, flourishing in Egypt, which sup plied an inferior coarse-grained wood for ordi nary purposes and for mummy cases. A famous Egyptian statue of an old man was carved out of a block of sycamore wood about 4000 B.C. The thick foliage, resembling that of the mul berry, makes the sycamore a desirable shade tree and it is still planted for this reason in Egypt. The fruit is borne directly on trunk and branches, edible and sweet-flavored and is a large item of food among the lower classes.

The ripening of the figs is hastened by making incisions in the apexes. In the Middle Ages a European maple, Acer pseudo-plantanus, was selected to represent the tree of Zacchmus in the old miracle plays, on account of its dense foliage. It is a tall, very handsome tree of quick growth and living for perhaps 200 years. The leaves are large and have acute lobes, somewhat resembling those of the plane, and the yellowish flowers droop in terminal racemes. The bark is smooth, often peeling off in large flakes, leaving patches of lighter shade, the sap is saccharine and the wood is hard and white, although with a brownish heart, and takes a fine polish, being used by wheelwrights, turners, cabinet-makers and wood-carvers and for musical instruments. Sycamore endures sea and mountain winds better than most timber trees and is, therefore, planted for its shade in exposed places. Certain of these trees in Scot

land were known as dool-trees, or grief-trees, because they formed informal gibbets on which to hang the enemies of powerful barons.

Perhaps because of the likeness in foliage and the stripping of the bark, the name of syc amore has been again transferred to the Ameri can plane-tree (Platanus occidentalis) better called buttonwood. This is one of the largest American trees with awkward, twisted, wide spreading limbs which, however, when the tree is fully leaved out, forms a broad pyramidal head. The bark is smooth, that of the upper portion flaking off in pieces each year, leaving whitish patches, which are very conspicuous in winter. The large leaves range from simple coarse-toothed to distinctly deltoid and three lobed blades. The flowers are clustered in compact round balls, with from three to eight minute petals and sepals; the fruit-heads retain this globose form and are composed of ohpyra midal nutlets, having long, nearly erect hairs at the base. They are usually solitary and swing on long peduncles during the winter, only fall ing apart in the early spring. The reddish brown wood is chiefly useful for cigar-boxes and is compact and difficult to split or to work.

The Australian sycamores are Sterculia lurida and the white sycamore Cryptocarya obo vata, one of the native nutmegs, and a large tree yielding serviceable white timber. Melia azedarach is the false sycamore, the large tree more commonly known as the pride-of-China tree.