All photos and information by Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin the manager of the Sabah Ficus Germplasm Centre.
Figs collected and processed by Hassan.
Ficus variegata is one of the most common and prolific fig trees in Borneo where it can be found in both secondary and primary forest. Ficus variegata is ideal for forest restoration projects because it is easy to grow and the figs supply food to many mammals including Palm Civets, Binturongs, Gibbons, Macaques and Orangutans. The main dispersers however are believed to be fruit bats of several different species. Birds hardly ever eat Ficus variegata figs.
This individual female tree was fruiting prolifically in late January 2021 at Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah.
Ficus variegata often grows next to forest streams where the ripe figs often fall into the stream and are eaten by fish. However it is believed that the reason F. variegata grow along streams is that fruit bats use forest streams as flyways through the forest. The bats defecate the seeds onto the river bank as they fly along the stream.
These ripe female Ficus variegata figs are much larger than normal and each one contains around 1,300 ripe seeds.
The chopped figs are mashed in a stainless steel sieve to help separate the fruit mush from the seeds. The seeds and remaining mash are then swirled in a container of water.
With ripe figs the viable seeds normally sink whilst the dead seeds and the fleshy parts normally float. It is easy to separate the ripe seeds by swirling the water around in a container like a centrifuge. The ripe seeds accumulate at the bottom and the detritus can be poured away.
A few hours work collecting 80 ripe figs produces over 100,000 ripe viable seeds.
Each ripe female fig contains on average 1,300 seeds. As fig seeds in Borneo do not vary much in size, large figs contain many more seeds than small figs.
One Ficus punctata or Ficus barbajovis fig for example can contain over 100,000 seeds.
Ficus variegata seeds are approx. 2 x 2 mm in diameter. The surface of the seed is rough covered in tiny pits. This feature has likely evolved so the seeds can be transported and secondarily dispersed by ants.