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Ripe female fig with seeds ready to be eaten by a mousedeer and the seeds  dispersed. Notice the ostiole (hole at the base on the right) blocked by layers of bracts.  Ficus uncinata is dioecious which means separate male and female plants. We know this  fig is female because only female figs produce seeds. (Male figs only produce fig wasps) At the earlier pollination stage  female fig wasps would have forced their way into this fig through the ostiole  bringing pollen from the male fig to fertilize the female flowers. The female fig wasps then die inside the fig on what is effectively a suicide mission to allow the fig to produce seeds.

MALAYAN EARTH FIG Ficus malayana  (Berg & Chantarasuwan)

Latin: The most common earth fig in the Malay Peninsula

Kelabit: buah abung, Iban: entimau.

Plant: A very common  small forest tree to 6 m, often a roadside shrub.

Leaf: The leaf is large and  slightly asymmetrical with  a small lobe at the base of the leaf which DOES NOT usually cover the petiole (leaf stalk). The leaves are hairy and dentate (toothed)

Sex: Dioecious. (All trees are either male or female). Male figs only produce pollinating fig wasps not seeds. Only female figs produce seeds.

Fig: Bright red hairless (glaborous) with prominent bracts with hooked ends. The sweet ripe female figs are eaten by locals.

Distinguish: One of the commonest earth figs in Borneo on Kinabalu and in the Crocker Range. Sabah. Less common further south. .

Similar species: F. uncinata is one of 8 different species of closely related Sycocarpus earth figs found in Borneo. However F. uncinata which is endemic to Borneo does not occur in Sabah.

Notes: Ficus malayana is often referred to as Ficus uncinata  by botanists in Sabah but this incorrect.  The taxonomy of Borneo’s earth figs were originally summarized by Corner in Berg (2005). This treatment was later revised by Berg et al (2007).

Berg (2007) A study on the taxonomy of some stoloniferous species of Ficus

Finally it is obvious that the vast variety of different earth figs found in the lowlands of Sabah do not fit easily into Berg’s a rigid taxonomy which is likely to require future revision..

In particular it is probable that some earth figs with very large leaves may actually be the juvenile forms of other species (differences in adult and juvenile leaves are very common in the Moraceae) and more research is required. 

Ecology: The most likely dispersers are pigs and deer. The stiff hooks on the outside surface of the fig have almost certainly evolved to reduce seed predation by ground birds such as pheasants and partridges which swallow smooth figs whole and grind up the seeds in their stone filled gizzards.

Distribution: Most common  in wetter areas throughout Borneo from the lowlands to the hills. In Sabah common in damp places along many roads from the lowlands up to 2,000 m on Kinabalu. Common along roads in forest around Kinabalu Park HQ.up to around 2,000 m at the Timpohon Gate.

Ficus malayana growing next to the lower car park on the ring road at Kinabalu Park HQ

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Ficus malayana. Juvenile leaf  with asymmetric leaf base  from the Crocker Range.

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