Ficus deltoidea var Motleyana (Motley’s Fig)   originally collected from  Sematan on the coast near Kuching.

Now cultivated at  the Malesian Tropicals plant nursery at Bau near Kuching.

All photos by Peter Boyce.

Note the many black spots or glands on the underside of the leaf which show that this fig is a very  close relative of  Ficus deltoidea which has a heart shaped leaf.

The original type collection of this fig from Labuan (now in the Kew herbarium)  is illustrated at the bottom of this page. James Motley worked in Labuan between 1849 and 1853 as a mining engineer developing a coal mine to supply fuel for the first steam ships operating between Britain and China. The mining project was  failure and Motley moved to Bandjarmasin in South Kalimantan. Motley, his wife and 3 children were murdered in  1859 during a local uprising against the Dutch colonial government. Motley was killed first and then his home with his family inside was burnt down.

During his  10 years in Borneo Motley was a prolific collector of plants and today many Bornean plants carry his name.


The type collection of Ficus deltoidea var motleyana  collected on Labuan island between 1849 and 1853. Currently in the Kew Herbarium.

I have to admit that when I first held this  herbarium collection sheet in my hand a cold shiver ran down my spine.  There is a fascinating and tragic story embedded in the history of this one plant specimen.