ABOVE: An ornamental Ficus benjamina at Karamunsing in the center of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Note the drooping or “weeping” branches.
WARINGIN Ficus benjamina L. (1767) SECTION CONOSYCEA
[Weeping Fig] Etymology: Sanskrit: The scientific name is derived from bani or banyan tree-Note that F. benjamina is not a banyan in the usual use of the word. On this website the term banyan is used to refer only to fig trees with pillar like trunks in addition to the main trunk. Two introduced banyans occur in Borneo F. benghalensis and F. elastica. The only native banyan is Jejawi F. microcarpa.
Habit: A medium sized “strangler” with “weeping branches, twigs and leaves” that hang down. Many variegated varieties are grown as ornamentals in urban areas.
Sex: Monoecious (bisexual).
Leaves: 2-14 long by 1.5-6 cm wide with a prominent drip tip and indistinct veins.
Fig: The medium sized figs (1-2 cm) grow in pairs in the leaf axils at the ends of the branches. Figs ripen green to yellow, to orange to red and. The ripe figs attract many species of birds. The basal bracts of the fig are cauducous and fall before the fig is ripe.
Distinguishing wild F. microcarpa and F. benjamina:
(1) By the “banyan” growth form of F. microcarpa with numerous curtains of thin reddish roots hanging from the spreading branches which often grow into pillar supports. F. benjamina rarely has more than a few hanging roots.
(2) F. benjamina leaves have a drip tip absent in F. microcarpa
(3) The ripe figs of F. microcarpa have a 3-way slit covering the ostiole absent in F. benjamina.
(4) F. microcarpa figs ripen green – white – pink – purple – black. F. benjamina figs ripen green – yellow – orange – red – black
(5) F. benjamina branches normally hang downwards hence the name “weeping fig” whereas Jejawi branches grow upwards.
Distinguishing Pot Plants: Both F. microcarpa and F. benjamina are cultivated as pot plants throughout the world. If you look at the underside of a leaf there is usually a clear waxy secretion at the junction of the leaf and the stalk in F. benjamina which is absent in F. microcarpa.
Notes: Waringin is a very important tree in the drier areas of SE Asia where it is often planted for good fortune, especially in Java.
Distribution: Ornamental Waringin are some of the commonest trees planted in Borneo’s towns e.g. Kota Kinabalu, Bandar Seri Begawan, Kuching but may also be found growing as wild trees in inland forests especially along rivers. At Danum the fruit are eaten by orangutan (Miyabi Nakabayashi).
Cultivated varieties grown in forest edge resorts eg Sepilok are very variable which can lead to much confusion.
Range: India east to Taiwan, south to Australia. A common fig tree in Singapore.