(PHOTO ABOVE) A fruiting Ficus punctata liana growing on a Dipterocarp tree by the side of the access road to the Maliau Study Centre in central Sabah.
Photo by Miyabi Nakabayashi
THIS SITE IS AN INTRODUCTION TO ALL THE 150+ SPECIES OF FIGS that are found growing wild on the island of Borneo. Along with New Guinea, Borneo hosts one of the world’s richest and most diverse fig floras. The figs of Borneo include tall trees, giant stranglers, small bushy epiphytes and 22 of species of root climbing lianas that grow up from the ground high into the forest canopy.
Botanists divide the Bornean fig species into
15 SECTIONS. In this overview we illustrate an example of a fig plant from each SECTION below.
SECTION CONOSYCEA: Jejawi Fig. growing over the sea on Pulau Kakaban off the coast of East Kalimantan, Borneo. Notice the slender roots dangling above the waves. Ficus microcarpa Ficus microcarpa is one of 36 species of SECTION CONOSYCEA stranglers found in Borneo. Conosycea stranglers target a wide range of dispersers including small birds (bulbuls) large birds (hornbills), primates eg gibbons and fruit bats.
SECTION ERIOSYCEA: There are 20 species of SECTION ERIOSYCEA figs found in forest gaps and along roadsides throughout Borneo. They are mostly small trees with large hairy leaves and hairy figs. A high proportion are endemics found only in the hills. This photo shows 2 species F. endospermifolia (left) and F. eumorpha (right) growing together on the summit of Gunung Alab (1,964 m) in the Crocker Range, Sabah. The most likely dispersers of the two species illustrated above are civets, pigs and the Sumatran Rhinoceros which was once abundant in Borneo.
SECTION FICUS: Ficus deltoidea is one of only two SECTION FICUS species found in Borneo. Ficus carica the edible fig is in the same section but does not occur wild in Borneo. Ficus deltoidea typically grows as a small epiphytic bush, here high in a canopy sky garden at the Belalong Canopy Walkway in Brunei. Ficus deltoidea is dispersed by flowerpeckers and ants.
SECTION KALOSYCE: Ficus punctata is one of 14 species of SECTION KALOSYCE root climbing figs found in Borneo. Both the leaves and the adult figs are usually smooth without hairs-however young figs are often hairy. The figs are often larger than the small leaves which adhere tightly to and cover the surface of the host tree. Ficus punctata is dispersed by primates and civets.
SECTION OREOSYCEA: Ficus callosa is one of 5 Bornean fig trees in SECTION OREOSYCEA. All Oreosycea figs have tall straight white trunks with few branches, no hanging roots and relatively large leaves. Most species are rare, F. callosa is locally common on river floodplains in Sabah. This individual was growing next to the Tuaran River, near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Ficus callosa is dispersed by large fruit bats (flying foxes).
SECTION RHIZOCLADUS: Ficus villosa is one of 14 SECTION RHIZOCLADUS fig species in Borneo. All SECTION RHIZOCLADUS figs are root climbers which branch and fruit only when they reach sunlight in the canopy. Both the large leaves and small figs are usually covered in dense hairs. Photo taken in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens, UK where this female F. villosa liana fruits frequently. The figs are dispersed by small birds.
SECTION SYCIDIUM: Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa is one of 26 SECTION SYCIDIUM figs in Borneo. Most sycidiums are common epiphytic shrubs of the forest understorey. Some may develop into small trees. The figs ripen red to orange and are very popular with small birds such as bulbuls. Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa grows on many trees and buildings around Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
SECTION SYCOCARPUS (Earth Figs) These large leaves on a medium sized roadside bush or small tree are typical of the 8 species of SECTION SYCOCARPUS EARTH FIGS found in Borneo. To be certain that it is an “earth fig” check the base of the trunk for the long root like stolons which bear dark red figs covered in hooked bracts at ground level. The figs are dispersed by rats, pigs and deer and are predated by partridges and pheasants.
SECTION SYCOCARPUS (Cauliferous figs). This Ficus sattertwaitei is one of 17 species of SECTION SYCOCARPUS figs which are mostly small trees of the forest edge that bear large bunches of cauliferous figs on the trunk. The figs are dispersed by small fruit bats.
SECTION SYCOMORUS: This Ficus racemosa is one of only two species of SECTION SYCOMORUS in Borneo. F. racemosa is a common tree of riverbanks and floodplains throughout Borneo. The main dispersers are fish but the ripe figs are also eaten by primates, bats, civets and hornbills. The only other SECTION SYCOMORUS fig in Borneo, Ficus auriculata is an introduced orchard fig occasionally cultivated in Borneo.
SECTION UROSTIGMA: This Ficus caulocarpa growing at Tg Aru beach, Kota Kinabalu is one of 5 species of large stranglers in SECTION UROSTIGMA found in Borneo. Urostigma figs are identified by their distinctive leaves with a hinge on the underside of the leaf at the joint between the leaf blade (lamina) and the leaf stalk (petiole). The small fig fruits are ramiflorus growing in dense clusters along the branches. and are mainly dispersed by small birds. Some of the largest strangling fig trees in Borneo are in SECTION UROSTIGMA.
SECTION: MALVANTHERA Malvanthera figs evolved in Australia and are widespread in eastern Indonesia and the Pacific Islands. Only one species reaches extreme eastern Borneo Ficus glandifera. The figs sit in cups like acorns which makes F. glandifera easy to recognise. So far F. glandifera has only been found on the remote islands of Pulau Maratua and Pulau Sangkalaki, part of the Derawan Islands off the coast of East Kalimantan.
SECTION: STILPNOPHYLLUM. Ficus elastica is the only fig species in Section: Stilpnophyllum. Ficus elastica originates in the Himalayas has never been recorded as growing wild in Borneo. All individuals so far recorded are sterile and have been propagated by cuttings, although they may occasionally produce seedless fig fruit. This individual was planted in Prince Philip Park, Tg Aru, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Ficus elastica is often grown as a house or office plant throughout the world, when it is called a Rubber Plant. (Note that the rubber trees Hevea brasiliensis grown in commercial plantations all over Borneo originated in the Brazilian Amazon and are not native to Borneo) .
SECTION: NEOMORPHE contains only one fig species, Ficus variegata which is a common tree in both primary and secondary forest throughout Borneo. It is easily recognized from the tall straight white trunk covered in bunches of figs which are mainly dispersed by mammals including civets, primates and bats. Normally the young figs are green and ripen red but a rare variety produces figs which are red when young but ripen green. This individual fig tree was growing at the orangutan centre at Samboja Lestari near Balikpapan, E.Kalimantan
SECTION BOSCHERIA: is a common fig throughout the Philippines and in Northern Sulawesi but is a rare immigrant to Borneo with only three records all from east Sabah. Ficus minahasae