The Ficus aenus - The Figs
Belonging to the Moraceae family, this genus takes its name from an old Latin word used to name the fig tree (Ficus carica).
Worldwide some 1 000 or so species occur mostly in tropical. and warm temperate regions. Of the 50 or so species found in Australia, some 38 species (3 exotic, 1 unnamed) have been identified in Queensland.
Ficus species recorded in the Rockhampton/Capricom Coast area include - F adenosperma, F. benghalensis, F. congesta var congest a, F copiosa, F. coronata, F. fraseri, varieties of F. microcarpa, F. obliqua, varieties of F. opposita, F. racemosa var racemosa, F. rubiginosa (which now includes F. baileyana, F. ob/iqua var patio/aris and except for Nth Q'ld F. platypoda), F. superba var henneana and varieties of F. virens.
Ficus species are latex-bearing and may be evergreen, deciduous or partly so. They may be trees, shrubs, banyans, epiphytic climbers or root climbers (none locally). Many have buttressed trunks. Figs are some of the world's largest trees - one species of Ficus benghalensis in India is reputed to be almost a kilometre in circumference.
Ficus leaves - petiolate, alternate, sometimes opposite, sometimes distichous, sometimes decussate, simple, entire or toothed or palmately-lobed, often glandular - on leaf undersurface or in vein axils or at petiole apex, stipular with stipules being free and paired or joined and stem-clasping.
Ficus flowers - tiny, unisexual, enclosed inside small hollow receptacle which has an even smaller flapped opening (ostiole). Flowers of 3-4 types - male (1-8 stamens), female, sterile male (neuter) and sterile female (gall flower) inhabited by fig-wasp.
Ficus fruit - drupe-like, varied in shape, often paired, sometimes clustered; may be axillary, cauliflorous (on trunk or major branches), ramiflorous (on recently formed woody branches) or geocarpic (fruiting on trunk runners which root in the ground).
Waso/fia svmbiotic relationshios
Adult female agaonid wasps are essential pollinators of Ficus flowers, they are highly host-specific, each species usually being restricted to 1 species of Ficus. The wing-reduced males usually mate and die without leaving the fig. The larvae feed on developing Ficus ovules. The larvae of other nonpollinating wasp species may also be present.
Some notes on the genus
The timber is pale-coloured, soft, light-weight, quick to decay and has been used sparingly to make packing-cases. F. elastica latex was used for rubber-making before it was replaced by the Brazilian rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis (Euphorbiaceae). A disadvantage of the former was that its latex could be harvested only every third year. Aboriginal uses included - making canoes from the bark of some species; making dilly-bags and fishing nets from the inner fibrous bark and in the Brisbane area from the roots of F. macrophylla; in Nth Queensland pounding the inner bark of
F. pleurocarpa & F. variegata to make bark blankets similar in texture to Polynesian tapa cloth; using the plank buttresses of some species as shields; smoothing down implements and weapons with the sandpapery leaves of some species. In some areas the women used these rough leaves to remove hairs from their legs.
Ficus in medicine
Some aboriginal tribes used F. coronata latex to disinfect wounds which were often then covered with a poultice of scraped Grewia root.
F. opposita latex was applied to ringworms or rubbed on hands to prevent diarrhoea. In India medicinal use of F. racemosa included - treating mumps, gonorrhoea and other inflammations with the latex; taking the root-juice as a tonic; using the astringent qualities of bark and fruit to treat bloody urine, excessive menstrual bleeding and coughing up blood and taking milk-soaked leaf galls mixed with honey to control smallpox pitting.
Ficus as food
All figs are edible, F. coronata, F. opposits, F. racemosa, F. atkinsiana being some that are more palatable. Aborigines ate them raw or collected dry fruit for storage while early settlers often made jam from the fruit.
F. racemosa is particularly rich in calcium (40mg per gram as compared to milk's 2mg per gram).
Most young fig shoots can be used as a boiled green vegetable; older leaves are readily eaten by grazing animals. Aboriginal tribes of the Tully area used the sticky latex of a fig species as birdlime to snare small birds.
Ficus in horticulture
Fig trees are ideal in parks, botanic gardens etc but generally speaking are too large and too root invasive for average home gardens.
Many species make fine indoor and tub plants for at least part of their lives.
Significance in the wildlife foodchain
Ficus fruit, seeds, leaves, flowers, shoots and bark play important roles in providing sustenance for an incredible array of animal species. Wildlife observations and surveys have indicated that the following numbers are known to feed on the Ficus genus - 17 mammal species, 89 birds species, 3 butterfly larvae and 14 moth larvae. The genus also hosts a myriad of insects including flies, beetles, thrips, psyllids, bugs and wasps.