This Tree may reach 13+m high. It has non-toxic milky Sap and may be a rock-splitter. The Leaves are simple. Small Flowers are in a syconium. Fruit is a small fig on a short stalk.
Ficus ingens, Ficus caffra, Ficus pondoensis, Ficus schimperiana, Urostigma caffrum, Urostigma ingens.
RSA Tree No. 55.
Common names: Red-Leaved Fig, Red-leaved Rock-fig, rooiblaarrotsvy, Rock Fig.
Family: Moraceae (fig or mulberry family). Trees are evergreen and have milky or watery latex present. Leaves are 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: Moraceae: Ficus – Latin for fig. ingens something that goes beyond what is natural for its kind. Perhaps this refers to the visibly pink, red or bronze colour of new leaves in spring. 26 species of the Genus Ficus occur naturally in southern Africa.
Conservation Status: L C. (Least Concern). Assessment Date: 2009 (Raimondo et al.).
Growing in the open the Tree may reach 18m high. It has a a crown that can reach 30m in diameter. When growing on rocks, the tree is a rock-splitter and tends to grow flat against north-facing rocks as though it has been trained to grow in one plane (photo 316). Damaged parts yield a non-toxic milky Sap. The Trunk can be ribbed, straight, twisted and broad. Bark is pitted, silver or yellowish-grey to grey-brown, smoothish, becoming darker and cracked with age. Isolated trees have a rounded crown. Branchlets are smooth – with or without short hairs. Both spines and aerial roots are absent.
The tree is deciduous for a short period and the fallen leaves Leave a scar. The new bright red, pink or bronze leaves may be spectacular. As they mature they become light or olive green and slightly glossy. The lower surface is slightly lighter. The alternate leaves are simple (have a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the leaf into leaflets), hairless and become coriaceous (leathery). The leaves are up to 16 x 9cm. Lateral veins are visible and slightly more prominent below. A total of 5-8 lateral veins occur on each side of the midrib. The basal pair of lateral veins is distinct. These veins run parallel to each other until close to the entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) Margin. Adjacent to the margin they link by means of loops. In the basal axils of secondary veins or at base of the midrib on lower surface are waxy spots. Leaves are stiff, ovate, oblong-lanceolate or lanceolate. The Apex is broadly tapering to somewhat concave, to almost rounded. Each leaf is 3-veined from the base. The Base is square to Cordate (heart-shaped). Leaves are widest near the base. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is slender and 0,5-4cm long. Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are yellow, soft and velvety and covered with densely matted woolly hairs. They are not spinescent but surround the terminal bud and are caducous (an organ or part which is easily detached and shed early).
The plant is monoecious (having both male and female reproductive organs on the same plant). Figs possess an amazingly arranged flower head called a Syconium. Essentially this consists of a Receptacle whose perimeter substantially increases in size – up to 2cm wide – decreasing when dry. It folds over forming the fig shape. Figs occur just below or in terminal leaf clusters and not on small, leafless branches. The syconia, are bisexual but the individual flowers may be male, female or have both sexes present. The flowers are tiny. The hollow fig ends with a tiny opening called an Ostiole, which is covered with scales (in Ficus ingens these scales do overlap and are not folded in to make a pore) making exit for wasps impossible and entrance difficult. Only the female pollinating wasp (specific for each species, in this case is Platyscapa soraria), attempts to do so and usually injures herself in the process. Around the inner boundary of the hollow receptacle of the fig, a large collection of extremely small flowers is located. 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. It is usually smaller). In the Female flowers, there are no stamens and usually fewer perianth lobes. The Ovary is free and usually has 2 Styles with usually oblong Stigmas.
The Female wasp enters the fig with her pollen sacks laden with microscopic pollen and pollinates those female fig flowers with longish styles. These longish styles prevent the wasp from laying eggs in the ovary. The wasp targets the flowers with short Stigmas and lays a single egg in each ovary. These female flowers react producing a gall, nourishing the developing larvae and these eventually pupate and becomes adults. The robust young Male wasps emerge first, fertilize the young Female wasps and then burrow through the wall of the fig to escape and this allows oxygen in. The young female wasps, now unintentionally loaded with pollen from the male flowers, escape 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 between the fig tree and the wasp. In Ficus ingens there is a very short stalk present. (Mainly Nov-Feb).
Nearly a Week after the wasps have left, the figs with their fertilized seeds, ripen and develop into a multiple fig up to 1,3cm wide. The small fig / synconium (having united carpels: applied to an ovary of 2 or more carpels, developing mainly from the inflorescence wall) which is up to 1,3cm wide and is on a short stalk. It is covered with hairs and is wrinkled. At this stage, small warts may be visible. Figs may appear singly or in pairs in leaf axils or just below the leaves. Mature fruit changes from white to purple. This ripening 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 and causing the fruit to change colour, texture and soften. It is used commercially to ripen fruits like tomatoes, bananas and pears. (Dec-Feb).
Distribution & Ecology
These trees may be found from around Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng (usually against the rocks of north facing slopes), Mpumalanga e.g. on the dolomites of the Pilgrim’s Rest area, Limpopo, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and northwards into tropical Africa including Senegal, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. This is a tree of the savannah (a rolling grassland scattered with shrubs and isolated trees, which can be found between a tropical rainforest and desert biome). It can also be found in mixed woodland, riverine forests and in frost protected sites including rocky hillsides. In cooler areas, they often occur on north facing slopes. Many Birds – including bulbuls seek the Fruit. Monkeys and baboons also feed on the fruit. Leaves supply food for the Butterfly larvae of the Common fig-tree blue (Myrina silenus ficedula). This attractive butterfly – blue and orange, has a wingspan of about 3cm that is slightly larger in the female.
This plant can be Grown from truncheons or seeds. The Figs are edible but leaves are toxic to livestock. The Root system is aggressive – usually not for the small garden and not near buildings. However, it makes a good shade tree. It also makes a good bonsai. Wood is light to grey brown. Ficin/Ficain is a protease enzyme (an enzyme that breaks down proteins and peptides) extracted from the milky sap of fig trees. Currently it is being studied for its effects on cancer and diabetes.
Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban. p74.
Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town. p143.
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. p455.
Schmidt, S. Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park. p78.
van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997 Field guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town. p76.