ABOVE:  Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa  “protecting” a 24 hour 7 ELEVEN store in the center of Kuching.

Long before Western architects dreamed up the concept of office blocks with green walls, Chinese shopkeepers in SE Asia made a pact with the epiphytic fig trees that grew on their shop houses.

You protect my shop from bad luck and evil spirits and  I will protect you.

05 Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa 3Y3A0706
Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa in central Kuching. This fig is the most abundant epiphyte on buildings in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. F. tinctoria var gibbosa is also the most common small fig tree in local parks.
01 Ficus benjamina 3Y3A0721.JPG
Ficus benjamina in central Kuching. F. benjamina is the second most common epiphyte on buildings in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. F. benjamina is also widely used in urban landscaping projects  in both cities. 
02 Ficus benjamina 3Y3A0723.JPG
Ficus benjamina in central Kuching “protecting” an ATM from “bad luck”.
07 Ficus microcarpa IMG_1362.JPG
Ficus microcarpa in central Kuching. F. microcarpa is the third most common fig growing on buildings in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
04 3Y3A0637.JPG
Central Kuching. Four figs of 3 different species. Top Ficus microcarpa.  Bottom left Ficus benjamina.  Bottom middle Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa. Far right bottom.  Ficus tinctoria var gibbosa.
08 4 different figs IMG_1366.JPG
Central Kuching Left:  Another four figs of 3 different species. F. microcarpa. Center: F. tinctoria var gibbosa. Right: F. microcarpa. Bottom. F. benjamina 
10 IMG_1822.JPG
Ficus virens growing on an abandoned school building on the hill behind Fort Margherita, Kuching. Only one example found.

03 Ficus spathulifolia 3Y3A0628.JPGFicus spathuliifolia in central Kuching. Only one example found.

Note that all the figs photographed on buildings in Kuching China town  above are self sown. They have arrived as a result of  bird droppings followed by secondary dispersal by ants. Although local shopkeepers never plant figs on their shophouses they consider their arrival to be a sign of good luck. Fig trees are considered by many to house benevolent spirits  and to remove the trees once they have arrived might  anger those spirits and bring bad luck.

The animist beliefs  that attach to fig trees in Asia  obviously date back  many thousands of years  and these beliefs have in turn been adopted  and adapted by many of Asia’s great religions including Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism.

See also: Ficus drupacea at Rasa Ria and Ficus microcarpa at Tanjung Aru beach