ABOVE: Illustration of Ficus fistulosa (as Covellia subopposita) from Choix Pl. Buitenzorg (1864) illustrating some a plant from Java.
FICUS FISTULOSA Reinw. ex Blume (1825) SECTION: SYCOCARPUS
Latin: fistulosus =hollow, referring to the hollow young twigs. See photo above;
Habit: Large shrub to small twisted tree to 18m often along forested roads in urban areas.
Leaf: Large 8-22cm (but up to 34 cm) long by 4-9cm wide with white veins. Young leaves sometimes flush pink. Normally 6-10 pairs of side veins.
Fig: The medium sized figs (1-3cm) grow in bunches on the trunk (cauliferous) and individually along the branches (ramiflorus). Figs ripen greenish yellow and are dispersed primarily by small Cynopterus fruit bats and also by palm civets.
Male figs are often covered in black ants when ripening as is common with many dioecious figs. As with all male figs these rot on the tree or fall uneaten to the ground as they are not eaten by animals.
Similar species and their differences
(1) F. variegata. Figs may ripen green, pink or red. Trunk is very tall, straight and white with large buttresses not short and twisted.
(2) F. septica. Similar sized small tree also common in urban areas. Leaves have prominent white veins. Figs are clearly ridged longitudinally and are heavily marked with dots. The colour tends to be grayish green not bright green.
(3) F. lepicarpa: Leaves very similar but usually 8-12 pairs of side veins not 6-10 pairs. Figs often have brown scurfy markings. Figs always have an “equator line” around the fig and usually one or two flat bracts on the side of the fig fruit.
(4) F. rosulata: Very similar but has a prominent cone shaped peak of black bracts around the ostiole.
(5) F. satterthwatei Very similar but has bracts or ridges on the side of the fig.
Note that Berg & Corner (2005) and Berg (2011) describe two varieties of F. fistulosa which also occur in Borneo (a) With figs that ripen reddish (rare in Borneo) and (b) F. fistulosa variety tengerensis (normally 4-6 pairs of side veins).
On this website F. tengerensis is regarded as a separate species.
Distribution: Abundant in most areas of Borneo up to 2,000 m, including urban areas such as Bukit Padang and Signal Hill in Kota Kinabalu.
Range: NE. India east to Taiwan, south to Java and east to New Guinea. A common fig of secondary forest, parks and gardens in Singapore.
ECOLOGY: In Singapore fruiting was “big bang” with up to 5 crops (female) and 7 crops (male) per tree per annum, but with no synchrony between individual trees. Some female trees were never without figs. Most female figs were taken and eaten by small Cynopterus fruit bats when still hard and green. Male figs turned yellow and dropped uneaten to the ground at wasp exit time. (Corlett 1987)