Wildflowers, Photos ... and Native Figs or Ficus

Submitted: Friday, Mar 11, 2011 at 17:56
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Adam and Eve were grateful for fig leaves. Their leaves probably came from the edible fig, Ficus carica a native of west Asia and the Mediterranean, one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans.

The genus Ficus, or Fig, belongs in the Mulberry family (Moraceae). It is one of the largest genera of woody flowering plants with about 800 different species distributed throughout India, parts of Asia, the Pacific islands and Australia.

There are about 40 Australian species of Fig, most of which are found in tropical and monsoonal areas.

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Australian Fig trees have tough leathery leaves, while some have a sandpaper like texture. The leaves and stems produce a sticky white sap when broken.

Many figs start off life as epiphytes, growing on the branches of mature trees but not relying on them for nutrients. The seeds of these figs are deposited by birds and animals high on the branches of rainforest trees. They germinate there and send aerial roots down towards the ground. When these roots reach the ground, they thicken and become woody, gradually enclosing the original tree and strangling it. The original tree eventually dies and rots away. Eventually a fig tree with a hollow trunk is formed. These figs are commonly called strangler figs, and are similar to banyans and curtain figs.

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This strangling process can take any where from 500 to 1,000 years. Strangler figs are typically found in rainforests where they play an essential role in the ecology of the rainforest. They fruit year round, with certain species fruiting at different times, providing food for many forest birds and mammals like flying foxes.

Figs do not have flowers in the conventional sense, for the tiny “flowers” (the reproductive parts) are hidden inside round receptacles that we normally recognize as the fig “fruit”.

Figs have a highly specific relationship with fig wasps: the tiny flowers of each species of fig are pollinated only by a particular species of fig wasp, while the wasps rely on the fig receptacle to reproduce inside.

To keep these wasps alive, the fruit of figs is produced all year round. This fruit in turn provides a regular food source for many animals in the rainforest. As well as providing fruits for generalist fruit eaters like bats and other small mammals, over 50 species of birds in Australia have been recorded feeding on fig fruits.

Some species of figs in the Australian rainforests have evolved the unusual habit of fruiting on the branches and the main trunk of the tree. The Cluster Fig, Ficus racemosa is so-called due to the often large clusters of fruit that appear on the main trunk and branches. They ripen from green to yellow to red and are quite tasty when ripe. This large tree is found along watercourses in the lowlands, as well across northern Australia and up into south-east Asia.

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Away from the rainforests, figs grow in desert areas in sheltered rocky gorges and on rocky cliffs. The Rock Fig, Ficus platypoda can be found growing in gorges and along rocky escarpments throughout Central Australia, northern parts of Western Australia, the Top End and outback Queensland, especially where there is water, even if it is deep underground.

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It has waxy oval evergreen leaves and grey bark and grows as a spreading shrub or tree up to 8 metres in height. The fruits are small and hard and remain on the tree for months before falling. The roots of these figs can penetrate deep into rock crevices in search of moisture.

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These figs in Central Australia were an important part of Aboriginal diet. The trees and where they grew were often regarded as sacred. The figs were eaten raw or dried and ground into a paste and eaten with water or honey. Early European settlers sometimes gathered the ripe red fruit to make jam.

Figs in Central Australia provide home for up to 14 species of land snails, an animal not commonly seen in the desert. Although Native Figs survive fires and regrow from existing roots, the snails are killed by fire and it may take hundreds of years for the snails to recolonise a burnt fig, even if there are snail populations at nearby figs.

All figs are edible although they may not be particularly palatable. Birds are quick to find the ripe fruit and ants are attracted to the sugar in the fruit, so before taking a bite its wise to check for other diners.

Cheers,

Val.
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Mar 11, 2011 at 21:05

Friday, Mar 11, 2011 at 21:05
Hi Val

Thanks again for another interesting read. Once again I have a good number of images in no digital form, mainly in the Cairns area. I do however have a few from the Great Victoria Desert, along the Connie Sue, being the Ficus brachypoda, or the Native or Rock fig. These ones I do not have any close ups, but they were taken a number of years ago before I took more detailed images if our Native Tress.

You learn from your mistakes and now all native vegetation will be taken more seriously when on holidays.

Here are a few from the Connie Sue.



Cheers

Stephen

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Mar 11, 2011 at 21:17

Friday, Mar 11, 2011 at 21:17
Hi Val

Looks like the gremlins are back again in full force. I will try again, otherwise it will be one for David to sort out.

Take two:

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 08:48

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 08:48
Third time lucky




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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 13:26

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 13:26
Hi Stephen,

Thanks for persevering to get your photos up. David must be heartily sick of those gremlins!

Its amazing though to see figs out in the desert, especially having seen them in rainforests. Makes you realise how significant they must have been for the original desert people.

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: Member - Pedro the One (QLD) - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 02:17

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 02:17
And ............. talking of fig leaves :

Adam and Eve's
Dress was leaves
But Autumn
caught'um ........................... !!!



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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 13:28

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 13:28
Good one, Pedro. Just as well ours are evergreen!

Cheers,

Val.
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Follow Up By: Member - Pedro the One (QLD) - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 14:14

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 14:14
Our leaves or our .............. ??????



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Reply By: Member - Phil B (WA) - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 09:26

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 09:26
Good read again J and V,

Like Stephen it’s only in more recent times that I too have taken more interest in bush vegetation.

Rock figs in the desert tend to be an indicator of water, either from a rock hole or a fissure. At these places I carefully survey the area because the nomadic aborigines before us would have know that as well and one can often find stone chips, art and other signs of their habitation. Sometimes early explorers left their marks on stone walls near rock holes as well.

Keep up the good work and all the best



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‘Human Being’ and ‘Being Human’.





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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 13:32

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 13:32
Thanks for that insightful comment Phil. It all makes sense with plants indicating water and providing food no wonder they were significant trees. There is a water sign engraved close to that fig at Gulvida soak. I will have a closer look for other signs next time I come across a fig tree "Out There".

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: equinox - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 18:36

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 18:36
Hi peoples,

There's a fig at Point Massie Rockhole with the water signs nearby. I haven't really got a good shot of it, but here it is.

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Cheers
Alan
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Reply By: Member - Scrubby (VIC) - Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 20:07

Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 at 20:07
G`day Val,

I believe this is a Native Fig tree. It had only two pieces of fruit on it.

We stopped for lunch near it along the Gary Junction Road last July.

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This fruit was a tad larger than a Golf Ball.

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Scrubby.
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 08:02

Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 08:02
Hi Scrubby,

Well you have really got me stumped! I have absolutely no idea what that is - But I'm pretty certain that it is not a fig. The desert/rock figs have fruit that is about 1cm across, so your fruit is too big to be a fig. The leaves are too long for a fig and also it would be unusual to find a desert fig out on the sand like that - they are usually found in rocky places like Alan and Stephen's photos show.

So now the questions is - can anyone identify this plant?

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Member - Scrubby (VIC) - Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 12:48

Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 12:48
Hi Val,

On the same trip while in Alice Springs I bought a painting from an Aboriginal Woman that had lots of fruit that looked very much like this one in it.
I showed her the photo on my camera and she said " dat one dis one " ( or similar ) pointing to her painting.

It may be worth looking up a Bush Tucker Book or then again it may not be Bush Tucker.

Now you`ve got me wondering.


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Reply By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 10:17

Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 10:17
Hi Val, well you've done it again! Well done!
I've always been fascinated with the figs in Aust, especially the figs of the Kimberley and the Pilbara, where they seem to only choose a craggy location to grow, ignoring lusher spots where other trees thrive. The roots meander through cracks in the rocks to eventually find their source of water far below. How they get started amazes me.
Here's a shot of an almost-bonzai fig growing in a gorge in the Karajini NP. It's grown a bit since this photo was taken back in the late 80's, but it epitomised the tenacity of these wonderful plants.


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Now I have a question; sounds silly, but has anyone successfully made fig jam from wild figs? Or why would you want to, I hear some people ask. But then, people make jam from quandongs, so why not?

cheers
Gerry


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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 10:35

Sunday, Mar 13, 2011 at 10:35
I meant to add; you can bonsai these native figs.
Here's a shot of a Moreton Bay Fig, about 25 years old:

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A bit smaller than one would expect at this age!

cheers
Gerry


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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 at 13:52

Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 at 13:52
Hi Joc,

Sorry I haven't got back to you earlier, its been a busy week. Your Karajini photo prompted me to go back and have a look at our Karajini photos and sure enough there are figs all over the place - from big ones alongside the walk down to Fern Pool to little naturally bonsai-ed ones clinging to the side of the gorges.

I guess the seed gets onto the ledges via bird and animal droppings and there it germinates. The young plant must be able to get enough moisture out of cracks in the rocks somehow until it gets its roots to a more secure water source. Pretty amazing really, but at least in the gorges they don't have many other trees for competition.

Amazing as the scenery is in places like Karajini, its these little details that add to the character and interest of the place.

Re fig jam, I've never heard of anyone making jam from wild figs. On the farm where I grew up there was a big Moreton Bay Fig tree that produced lots of fruit, but the birds and bats were the sole benficiaries. The desert figs from my experience are pretty dry and often full of ants.

Cheers,

Val.
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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 at 14:56

Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 at 14:56
Hi Val,
Yes, the Pilbara figs are small and very dry - most un-appetising, as are some of the Kimberley figs. The cluster figs seem moist and sweet(ish) but almost impossible to find any without grubs inside. Shouldn't complain, as that's what the fig needs to procreate. The Moreton Bay figs seem the only ones without invaders. They grow extremely well in Perth; many are huge and are now heritage trees, and despite wrecking their surrounds, cannot be touched! Certainly not one you'd grow in your back garden, tho many were in the early part of last century, probably not realising what they'd grow into.
Luckily, we don't have the fruit bats here in Perth to roost in the Moreton Bay figs. Tho they are in abundance in the Kimberley, noisy/messy things that they are.
cheers
Gerry

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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 at 15:12

Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 at 15:12
Hi Val,
Yes, the Pilbara figs are small and very dry - most un-appetising, as are some of the Kimberley figs. The cluster figs seem moist and sweet(ish) but almost impossible to find any without grubs inside. Shouldn't complain, as that's what the fig needs to procreate. The Moreton Bay figs seem the only ones without invaders. They grow extremely well in Perth; many are huge and are now heritage trees, and despite wrecking their surrounds, cannot be touched! Certainly not one you'd grow in your back garden, tho many were in the early part of last century, probably not realising what they'd grow into.
Luckily, we don't have the fruit bats here in Perth to roost in the Moreton Bay figs. Tho they are in abundance in the Kimberley, noisy/messy things that they are.
cheers
Gerry

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