Ficus subcordata is a very widespread S E Asian fig found from Vietnam south to Timor and east to the Solomon Islands.
Depending on the climate and habitat this fig has developed 3 different growth forms (varieties) adapted to local conditions. (1) F. subcordata var cornerii (2) F. subcordata var Fairchild’s Fig (3) F. subcordata var malayana
Illustrated above is the form ( which I have named var. cornerii) found in primary forest in New Guinea and east to the Solomon islands where it is one of the most common large forest figs. The development of “stilt roots ” in strangler figs is normally the result of a seedling that grows from the ground upwards.
Figs which start life as an epiphyte in the canopy and then drop roots down to the ground end up looking very different. This is the case with the Ficus subcordata variety that occurs in Borneo, F. subcordata var malayana. In Borneo a ground seedling would soon be eaten by terrestrial herbivores such as pigs and deer. But on most of the islands east of Borneo (east of Wallace’s Line) there were no terrestrial herbivores until recently.
Below is a photograph of the variety known as Fairchild’s Fig which has few or no aerial roots. This is the most common variety throughout the dryer parts of the Philippines and Indonesia. This individual was collected by the botanist David Fairchild in the Philippines in 1939. and is currently growing in the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens at Coral Gables in Florida.
F. subcordata var Fairchild’s Fig is the most widespread and common variety in the dryer more seasonal climate of parts of Java, Bali and the Lesser Sunda islands. In these areas the leaves are fed to cattle and cuttings of the branches are grown as living fence posts. The seed of the fig above was collected on David Fairchild’s (1939) Cheng Ho luxury junk expedition which visited the Philippines and N. Sulawesi. Photo of Fairchild’s fig from Facebook
For an article about a different F. subcordata var cornerii fig also collected by David Fairchild in 1926 in Java and growing at Chapman Field in Florida see here.
In the wet forest of Borneo Ficus subcordata is an uncommon forest hemi-epiphyte which first establishes a seedling high up in the canopy of an giant forest emergent. As the plant grows it drops down one or more aerial roots to the ground as shown in the photos above and below.
In Borneo F. subcordata has not been known to strangle the host tree. Corner (1965) described this variety as Ficus subcordata var malayana which has larger leaves and larger figs than the Ficus subcordata varieties found elsewhere. F. subcordata var malayana is restricted to primary forest in the Malay Peninsula and N. Borneo. See map below.
In Borneo Ficus subcordata produces one of the largest fruits of any strangling fig only rivaled by Ficus stupenda.
All Borneo fig photos by Shavez Cheema and Chun Xing WONG of 1Stop Borneo Wildlife.