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

  1. F. fistulosa figs are usually ridged longitudinally and  ripen yellow green never pink or red.
  2.  F. fistulosa leaves  have more side veins and rarely have a cordate (heart shaped) base.
  3. F. fistulosa tertiary veins tend to be mostly reticulate whereas F. variegata tertiary  veins tend to be ladder like (scalariform).
  4. 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.
  5. Ficus fistulosa grows as a small tree with a short twisted trunk. F. variegata has a tall straight   white trunk with large buttresses.

F variegata Tabin 01

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.

F variegata Tabin 02
Bornean Striped Palm Civet Arctogalidia stigmatica (Small toothed Palm Civet) feeding on Ficus variegata figs next to the visitor cabins at Tabin Wildlife Resort. This civet spent a long time sniffing each individual fig before eating.

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.

03 Berg (2005) Ficus variegata MAP  enhanced - WEB.jpg
Note this map copied from Berg (2005) is inaccurate because the distribution shown on the map does not include Hong Kong  and most of northern Australia.