ABOVE: Ficus virescens illustration from the type description by J.H.Corner in the Gardens Bulletin Singapore 1962.
This unusual, rare, montane fig, confined to Kinabalu and the highest point in the Crocker Range was first discovered by the Royal Society Expedition to Kinabalu in 1961. Only two collections were made, one from the eastern shoulder of Kinabalu above Poring and another at Mesilau.
Note: The shape of the leaf in Corner’s drawing is not typical and probably derives from an entirely different species. The typical leaf of F. virescens is very large with a cordate (heart-shaped base) not a cuneate (wedge shaped base). Also the persistent stipules typical of the terminal branches of F. virescens are not mentioned in Corner’s type description. See the photos below;
GREEN LEAVED FIG Ficus virescens Corner (1962) SECTION: SYCOCARPUS
Latin: Green – because the herbarium leaves of this fig dry greenish.
Plant: A small tree of very wet montane forest with spirally arranged leaves. The branches grow upright and are bare apart from a spiral tuft of leaves at the far end giving a very distinctive appearance to the tree as a whole which is easily recognised.
Leaves : The leaves are glabrous (without hairs) both above and below. The terminal tuft of leaves on each branch normally also holds persistent stipules which is unusual for tree figs.
Fig. The figs are strongly ridged at the apex around the ostiole but not on the body of the fig itself. The figs grow in very dense clusters on the trunk on large rough projections or callouses from the base of the tree to at least 4 meters above ground (see photo) and ripen yellow brown.
Similar species: Ficus albomaculata which may replace this fig in the hills south of the Sabah border. Both species are very rare and the dispersal agent is as yet unknown.
Distinguish: By the montane habitat, the distinctive candelabra growth form of the tree and the cauliferous figs, ridged around the ostiole. Ficus treubii has similar shaped figs but F. treubii figs hang in pendulous curtains from the tree and ripen grey green. The colour and cauliferous growth of the figs resembles F. leptogramma but mature F. leptogramma figs are not ridged around the ostiole and have bracts on the side of the fig which are absent in F. virescens.
Distribution: A North Borneo montane endemic found between 1,000-2,000 m at Mesilau and on the eastern shoulder of Kinabalu above Poring. F. virescens is now known to be locally common at Mesilau in the forest behind the Mesilau resort cabins which were badly damaged by the earthquake of 5th June 2015.
There is one sight record from near the summit of Gunung Alab c.1800m in the Crocker Range. This tree was unfortunately destroyed when the new Sabah Parks visitor cabins were built on Gng Alab in 2015. However there are likely to be more individuals in the area waiting to be discovered..
Notes: In general appearance of the tree with whorls of leaves in tufts at the end of bare branches, F. virescens most closely resembles Ficus cereicarpa and F. francisci, although the arrangement of the figs in large cauliferous bunches most resembles F. leptogramma. The photos below are of different individuals at Mesilau, taken before the earthquake in June 2015, by Quentin Phillipps and Linus Gokusing.