Ficus macrostyla is a rare endemic fig confined to rocky stream beds in the hills of Borneo. As pointed out originally by the famous Ficus botanist E J H Corner, F. macrostyla is probably the most primitive and ancient fig to be found in Borneo and possibly the world. The prominent bracts that cover the outer surface of F. macrostyla have evolved over many millions of years to become the bracts surrounding the ostiole in more recently evolved figs.
Ficus macrostyla is therefore a “living fossil” remarkable evidence of the appearance of the first figs when when Ficus split from the Castilleae – some 83 million years ago.
These bracts in modern figs (much reduced in size) act as one way entry gates blocking entrance to the ostiole. Each ostiole gate is a slightly different design allowing access only to specific species of pollinating fig wasps. Each species of wasp has evolved a (slightly different) mandible key allowing entry to the ostiole so that they can either pollinate or lay an egg in the tiny flowers that line the hollow center of all figs.
All photos by Shuai LIAO taken on 10 September 2019 at Kipandi Butterfly Farm in the Crocker Range, Sabah. Collection #20190392.
The F. macrostyla plants shown in this article originate from a collection made by Linus Gokusing at Sungai Imbok, Kuamut, Sabah and which are now being cultivated at Kipandi. Ficus macrostyla has yet to be found growing wild in the Crocker Range and therefore the plants shown are unlikely to produce fertile fig fruits. Fortunately, F. macrostyla can readily reproduce via stolons.