The water drops on this Ficus septica leaf are not the result of rain or early morning dew but have been expelled by the plant itself an activity known as “guttation”. Guttation is common with many species of figs including Ficus elastica and Ficus chartaceae.
All photographs in this article are by Honor Phillipps and include several different individual Ficus septica plants.
SEPTIC FIG Ficus septica Burm (1768) SECTION: SYCOCARPUS
Greek: septic, putrid, referring to the poisonous latex and its corrosive effect on human skin. An alternative common name is White-veined Fig, referring to the prominent white veins on the upper surface of the leaf.
Habit: Large shrub to small tree (25m) often along roadsides and in gardens, city plots or areas of poor soil. The most common roadside fig in Sabah but absent from Sarawak and large areas of Kalimantan.
Leaf: Large spirally arranged leaves up to 15 x 30 cm, with prominent white veins. White dots on the leaf (hydathodes) used for expelling excess water (guttation) are often very noticeable.
Fig: The ridged figs are ramiflorus growing along the branches and ripen green to yellow/green in a steady sequence night after night attracting “traplining” fruit bats and palm civets to visit regularly.
Distinguish: The large dark green floppy leaves with prominent white veins mimic the appearance of the leaves of similar small trees with bat dispersed fruit such as Morinda citrfolia and Poikilosperniuim suaveolens. The young twigs are hollow and the glands on the nodes attract black ants.
Similar species: Ficus lepicarpa and F. septica are often found together eg at Tabin, Sabah but F. lepicarpa prefers more shade and dampness. Lepicarpa figs also ripen green but are ridged latitudinally not longitudinally and develop a scurfy’ brown surface when ripe.
Distribution: Abundant in many areas of Borneo but curiously missing from others. Very common in both urban and forested areas of Sabah up to 1,500m on Kinabalu but absent from Sarawak and West Kalimantan where it appears to be replaced by F grossularioldes as the most common roadside fig. Ficus septica is tolerant of both limestone, eg on Pulau Maratua and on ultramafic soils eg Kinabalu and Gunung Silam. The most common fig on the coral atol of Pulau Maratua, E. Kalimantan where it is dispersed by Island Flying Fox and Cynopterus Fruit Bats.
Range: N. India east to Taiwan, south to Queensland, Australia, and east to the Solomon Islands. Absent from Singapore.