ABOVE: Ficus variegta originally from Sumatra growing in the Calcutta Botanic Gardens illustrated in Roxburgh (1768) Flora Indica as Ficus racemifera.
VARIEGATED FIG Ficus variegata Blume (1825) SECTION SYCOMORUS
[Red-stem fig]; Latin: Blotched referring to the fig surface
Habit: One of Borneo’s most common figs found both on the edge of towns and in deep virgin forest where large trees may reach the canopy growing to 40 m +. This fig is easily recognized by the tall straight pale white trunk with bunches of figs growing directly from the trunk (cauliferous).
Leaves: Medium size heart shaped leaves with a cordate base and a long leaf stalk (petiole). Normally 4-9 pairs of side veins. with a petiole at least 2 cm long but up to 14 cm long. Young leaves are obviously dentate (toothed) whilst old leaves have wavy edges. In this they are similar to the leaves of Ficus fistulosa. However F. variegata leaves normally have 5-6 side veins whereas F. fistulosa normally have 6-10 side veins.
Figs: Round with a smooth or pear shaped surface with no longitudinal ridges. Normally in cauliferous or ramiflorus bunches with a long peduncle (stalk) up to 6 cm long. Individual trees produce figs which ripen different colors. The most common are figs which ripen yellow green. The next most common are figs which ripen green to red. The least common are figs which are bright red from the start but then develop a greenish tinge when ripe.
Sex: Dioecious, separate male and female trees.
Confusion species: Ficus fistulosa
- F. fistulosa figs are usually ridged longitudinally and ripen yellow green never pink or red.
- F. fistulosa leaves have more side veins and rarely have a cordate (heart shaped) base.
- F. fistulosa tertiary veins tend to be mostly reticulate whereas F. variegata tertiary veins tend to be ladder like (scalariform).
- A cut section of a ripe female F. fistulosa fig shows bright red female ovaries but with F. variegata the colour is dull reddish brown.
- Ficus fistulosa grows as a small tree with a short twisted trunk. F. variegata has a tall straight white trunk with large buttresses.
Ecology: The figs are mainly mammal dispersed including gibbons, macaques, palm civets, binturongs, fruit bats, deer and pigs. As F. variegata fig grows both in forest and urban areas ecologically it is one of Borneo’s most important figs -an ideal fast growing fig to use in forest restoration projects and planting adjacent to wildlife resorts.
Borneo: Throughout the lowlands in both virgin and secondary forests, up to 1,000 m in the Crocker Range in Sabah.
Range: From India east to Taiwan and the Ryu Kyu islands south to northern Australia and east to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Abundant both in Hong Kong and Singapore.