ABOVE: Ficus virgata from the NATURALIS online herbarium.
Ficus virgata is a very common fig in the Philippines east to New Guinea and the Pacific Islands but is very rare in Borneo. Berg (2005) lists F. virgata as occurring in Borneo but does not give any localities. Of the 171 collections of Ficus virgata in the Naturalis online herbarium only 2 have an origin listed as Borneo, both obviously from the same plant by H. de Vriese.
In 1860 the Dutch collector botanist Willem Hendrik de VRIESE travelled by boat from Manado in N. Sulawesi to Pontianak in W. Borneo so this collection could have been made from a small island around the coast of East or South Borneo or from the Pontianak area.
TWIGGY FIG Ficus virgata Reinw. Ex Blume (1825) SECTION: SYCIDIUM
Latin: Made of twigs, probably referring to the bushy growth with many small twigs.
Habit: A medium size bushy fig, which in the Pacific islands often grows into a medium sized tree.
Leaves: Almost symmetric, glossy green with prominent pale veins. Very variable in shape and size with from 4 to 28 cm long and with 3-12 pairs of side veins.
Fig Fruits: 0.6 to 0.8 cm diameter, often ramiflorus, smooth, ripening yellow to orange to red to purple. Often with a pronounced rim around the ostiole.
Similar Species: Forms a species group with Ficus tinctoria, and Ficus subulata all of which are very variable in growth habit and leaf morphology. Ficus virgata is obviously an island specialist which is most abundant and reaches its greatest size east of Wallace’s Line where terrestrial herbivores are largely absent. In the Solomon islands F. virgata is an important component of the island forests. See below;
- The stipules of virgata are normally over 1 cm long whilst with F. tinctoria they are usually less than 1 cm long.
- In virgata the leaf base is normally V shaped (attenuate) whereas with F. tinctoria the base is normally flattish.
- In virgata the twigs are normally smooth without hairs but F. tinctoria may have sparse hairs on the twigs
“Corner (1967): The stranglers allied with F. subulata, namely F. tinctoria and F. virgata can become immense trees over 40 m high, supported by a dense column of descending aerial roots, individually up to 30 cm thick. Seedlings begin epiphytically, in the manner of F. subulata, but commonly at greater heights in the forest, and they never develop the proliferating stolons. The descending roots thicken and branch but scarcely anastomose, and a basketing trunk, such as most stranglers develop, is not formed; in fact, these columns of aerial roots are the best way of identifying these two stranglers on first encounter in the forest. F. tinctoria and F. virgata make the only instance of the strangling habit outside sub genus Urostigma (Corner I967 ).”
Range: Very widespread from Taiwan and the Philippines east to the Solomon Islands and south to Australia. Abundant in the Philippines (excluding Palawan), Sulawesi, New Guinea and the Solomons but a mystery fig in Borneo most likely to occur on one of the small east coast islands in the Makassar Strait.