Tree is up 20m high. Bark – smooth, pale grey. Shortish, obovate, simple, entire Leaves. Flowers are in a syconium. The small spherical Figs have a distinct terminal nipple.
Ficus craterostoma, Ficus luteola, Ficus pilosula.
Common names: Bastard Natal Fig, Baster Natal-vy, Blunt-leaved Forest Fig, Bos-touboom, Bosvy, Forest Fig, Rankvy, Stompblaar-bosvy, Strangler Fig, Wurgvy.
Family: Moraceae (fig or mulberry family). Trees are evergreen and have milky or watery latex present. Leaves are simple, usually entire and stipules are present. Simple leaves are alternate or opposite and 3-veined from near the base. Plants are monoecious or dioecious and flowers are unisexual. The Perianth of indigenous species contain sepals but no petals. Male flowers have up to 6 stamens. Female flowers are inconspicuous and lack staminodes. The superior or inferior Ovary has 1 locule with 1 ovule and 2 styles are often present. The compound Fruit contains various Seeds. The family has 37+ genera and 1 100+ species. There are 4 genera and 29 species in southern Africa.
Name derivation: Ficus – Latin name for fig. craterostoma: crater – bowl shaped and stoma – mouth. This refers to the fig opening. The genus Ficus has 24+ species in southern Africa.
Conservation Status: L C. Least Concern: Assessment date: 2009. (Raimondo et al.).
This Tree can be a strangler or rock-splitter and may reach 20m high. Strangler roots may be visible (Photo 985). Horizontal and vertical markings may be visible on the Trunk, which may be buttressed. The Bark is smooth, pale grey and may be mottled.
The simple (have a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the leaf into leaflets) Leaves are alternate to nearly opposite and may reach 10 x 5cm. They are obovate (the reverse of ovate, the terminal half is broader than the basal). The Apex is slightly concave or blunt-tipped. The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented) and wavy. The hairless Blade is dark green above and lighter below. The Midrib stops before the apex. Up to 10 lateral veins may be present. A pair of lateral veins arise near the base. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is hairless and up to 5cm long. The Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are up to 5mm long. The tree may be deciduous.
Flowers & Fruit
The Figs are spherical or ellipsoidal and up to 1,5cm wide. They have a distinct terminal opening. Figs are monoecious (having both male and female reproductive organs on the same plant), axillary and usually appear in pairs. Individual flowers are within the fig and are minute. Figs possess an amazingly arranged flower head called a Syconium. Essentially this consists of a Receptacle (is that expanded tip of the flower stalk from which the floral parts develop. It is greatly expanded in the Compositae / Asteraceae and Ficus) whose perimeter substantially increases in size and folds over forming the Fig shape. The hollow fig ends with a tiny opening called an Ostiole. Scales surround this opening, making exit for the wasps impossible and entrance difficult. Only the female pollinating wasps (Alfonsiella pipithiensis in southern Africa) attempt to do so and may be injured in the process. Around the inner boundary of the figs hollow receptacle, the large collection of extremely small flowers is located. These tiny flowers are unisexual. In the Male flowers, up to 6 overlapping Perianth (the 2 floral envelopes considered together; a collective term for the calyx and corolla) lobes and one or 2 Stamens are present. The Ovary is absent or vestigial (imperfectly developed, non-functional relic from the past and is usually smaller). In the Female flower, there is a free Ovary and 1 or 2 styles. The Stigma is usually oblong. There are no stamens and usually fewer perianth lobes.
Fig scent attracts the Female wasp and she enters the fig with her pollen sacks laden with pollen and, incidentally, pollinates those female fig flowers with longish styles. These long styles prevent the wasp from laying eggs. The wasp targets the flowers with short stigmas and lays a single egg in each one. The female flowers react to this intrusion producing a gall, nourishing the developing larvae, which eventually pupate and becomes adults. The robust Male wasps develop first, fertilize the young Female wasps and then burrow through the wall of the fig allowing oxygen in. The female wasps then, unintentionally, load pollen from the male flowers before escaping from the fig and make their way to another fig, of the same species, to continue the life cycle. This is an excellent example of a mutualistic relationship, (both benefit) which occurs between the fig tree and the wasp. Nearly a week after the wasps have left, the figs with their fertilized seeds, ripen and develop into a speckled Fruit up to 12mm wide. This is due to the oxygen induced ethylene production. Ethylene is a small hydrocarbon gas – odourless and tasteless. This gas is involved in the ripening of the fruit, including causing the fruit to change colour, texture and soften. Ethylene is used commercially to ripen fruits like tomatoes, bananas and pears. The ripe fig fruit is brown to yellowish. The Figs are axillary on terminal branches. The hairless, stalkless and warty figs change from having reddish spots to a yellowish-red when ripe. Apparently none of the essential wasps occur in Kirstenbosch as the unfertilized figs seem to have fallen to the ground (Photo 982).
Distribution & Ecology
These fig Trees occur naturally from the Great Kei River in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. They are also found in Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and northwards into tropical Africa and Arabia. These trees occur where there is a reasonable water supply – in evergreen forests, wooded mountain ravines and up to an altitude 2 100m. Leaves are one of the food sources for the larvae of the butterfly Myrina silenus.
This is an impressive tree for a large garden in frost-free areas. Keep away from buildings, swimming pools, sewer lines etc due to the aggressive roots. Fruit in edible but not very tasty. Open and dry the ripe fruit before planting the tiny seeds. Cuttings of young stems can also be used for propagation.
Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.
Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
Lawrence, G. H. M, 1951. Taxonomy of Vascular Plants, The Macmillan Company, New York. Tenth Printing 1965.
Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, Balkema, Amsterdam, Cape Town.
Schmidt, S. Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park.
van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997 Field guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town.