Illustration from Roxburgh (1831) Plants of the coast of Coromandel (Eastern India)

Ficus septica is a common small tree of secondary forest in Sabah and NE Kalimantan. Ficus septica is absent from much of Brunei, all of Sarawak and most of KalimantanFicus septica is one of a very few figs with toxic latex. ( F. albipila and F. magnoliifolia are also reputed to produce toxic latex). The Greek word septikos refers to rotting or putrefaction i.e. becoming infected or septic.

As with many plants in the unrelated Spurge family Euphorbiaceae the yellow latex is corrosive i.e. dissolves flesh.

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Locals in Borneo use the corrosive sap of Ficus  septica  to treat warts and herpes cold sores. Illustration from Willdenow, C.L., Hortus Berolinensis, vol. 1: p. 14, t. 36 (1803-1806)

As with many other toxic plants,  Ficus septica is used in herbal medicine throughout the natural range from India to  Taiwan south to Northern Australia.   Numerous references can be found on the internet of  the medicinal use of F. septica in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Extracts of the leaves have cell destroying i.e. anti-cancer potential.

Budding herbalists however should be aware that the “danger is in the dose”.  Even widely used herbal medicines such as aspirin can kill in large doses whilst extremely poisonous plants such as foxglove ( Digitalis) can be used safely in tiny doses to regulate heart beat.

This is possibly the reason that  Javan and Sumatran rhinos browse  small quantities  daily of a very wide variety of secondary forest plants many of them considered toxic by humans.

In Borneo fig leaves and fig fruit are one of the Sumatran Rhinos favourite foods, however captive Sumatran rhinos at BORA  refuse to eat the leaves of Ficus septica perhaps because of the powerful toxins contained in the sap.

Fig Ecology: Sumatran Rhinoceros

In contrast  research on Javan Rhinos at Ujong Kulon Wildlife Preserve in Java found that Ficus septica was one of the rhinos favourite food plants.

Fig Ecology: Javan Rhinoceros

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Illustration from Tree Flora of Sabah and Sarawak (2000)  Volume 3.