DYE FIG Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria G.Forst (1786)   SECTION: SYCIDIUM

Latin: Tinted. From the use of the roots  by locals for  dyeing cloth (yellow).

Habit: Small tree to 15 m often climbing and sometimes epiphytic.

Leaf: Most leaves are regular in shape often longer than 10 cm,  but the leaves on the same twig can vary greatly. See photos.

Fig: Pairs of figs grow in the axils of the leaves. Figs ripen green to orange to red. The figs are edible by humans  but so fibrous that they are regarded as a starvation food only on many Pacific islands.

Similar species: Herbarium collections of Ficus tinctoria, Ficus virgata and Ficus subulata are frequently confused. These 3 species are the most common figs on many Pacific Islands. See Corner 1967.

Distinguish: (1) All three species produce small orange figs with long necks which ripen orange to red but Ficus subulata is the only one of the 3 which has lateral bracts -tiny triangular flaps on the side of the fig fruit.

(2) In Borneo the range of Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria does not overlap with Ficus subulata and they are unlikely to be found together.

(3). F. subulata’s  epiphytic growth system  scrambling at sub-canopy level from tree to tree is unique among Bornean figs.

(4) Ficus subulata normally has a single gland on the larger side of the base of the lamina absent in the other two species.

Range: From islands off the coast of East Borneo east to Fiji in the Pacific. According to Corner this fig may have been spread by  Polynesian seafarers as the soft wood is often used to to carry fire  (via smoldering embers) from one island to another. On the Borneo mainland this variety is replaced by Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa which is a very common secondary forest fig in towns such as Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

04 Range Map  2 species  Final with text - Copy.jpg
On the island of Palawan just north of Borneo, the two varieties  of Ficus tinctoria overlap and intermediates occur

Taxonomy: Ficus tinctoria  has the widest distribution of any fig being found from Sri Lanka eastwards to the Pacific Islands. Within this range there are two recognized varieties or sub species with mostly non-overlapping distributions (apart from Palawan). Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria and F. tinctoria var gibbosa.

In Borneo the only records of Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria are from Pulau Nunukan and Pulau Kakaban in the Derawan Islands near Pulau Maratua off the coast of East Kalimantan, where it grows in abundance on coastal limestone rocks. (Note that Nunuk is the Bajau (Sea Gypsy)  name for fig).

Borneo map

The only location in Borneo where Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria is known to occur  are the Derawan Islands  off the north east coast of Kalimantan.

Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria on Pulau Kakaban

Ficus tinctoria var tinctoria on Pulau Nunukan