FICUS SUBULATA Blume (1825) SECTION: SYCIDIUM
Latin: Needle or awl like – referring to the shape of the stipule (leaf bud). Note: The shape of the stipule is a very useful distinguishing feature not shared by any other Bornean figs in Section Sycidium. However both the unrelated Ficus dubia (Section Conosycea and Ficus nervosa (Section Oreosycea) have similar needle like stipules.
Habit: A common small tree or climber with very variable shaped leaves with a very wide range from the Himalayas east to the Solomon Islands. In Borneo normally confined to the damp under-story of primary forest.
According to Corner (1967): “The young plant sends roots round a host trunk 2-10m above ground which clasp it in position and then along the trunk to the ground but they do not form a root trunk. When established on one tree it produces lax branches with long internodes and much reduced leaves. The branches can reach up to 6 m long, and perhaps more, and, on sagging, they contact the branches and trunks of nearby trees to which they attach themselves with encircling roots in the manner of a young plant; a new crown is then developed with its own set of descending roots. The process is repeated until aerial thickets are constructed and the stand of host trunks looks as if it has been heavily infected by many plants although it may all have started with one”.
Leaves, very variable in size and shape 10-20 cm but up to 35 cm long by 4-9cm wide with a smooth surface and entire (even) leaf edge. The leaves are distichous (in a flat plane) and almost symmetric sometimes with a small auricle or “ear” on one side of the leaf base. The leaf has 8-16 pairs of steeply ascending side veins. The petiole (leaf stalk) is very variable in length but up to 3 cm long.
The small figs (1-1.5cm) grow in the leaf axils or clusters on the branches (ramiflorus). The figs hang from short peduncles up to 0.8 cm long. Figs ripen yellow to orange to red brown. The figs are smooth with an occasional tiny lateral bract. The figs are typically dispersed by bulbuls.
Similar species: F. virgata is very similar but is not yet known to occur on mainland Borneo.
(1) By the habit of extending long lianas with rootlets sideways to establish satellite plants in neighboring trees.
(2) By the distinctive long, smooth needle like stipule similar to the stipules of Ficus dubia and Ficus nervosa.
(3) By the occasional tiny bracts on the side of the fig.
(4) By the occasional auricle or ear on one side of the leaf base.
(5) By the sunken side veins on the upper side of the leaf giving a corrugated appearance.
Borneo: Locally common throughout the wetter forests of Borneo up to 1,700 m on Kinabalu.
Typically, only found in the damp under storey of virgin primary forest often near streams.
Range: Himalayas to S. China including Hong Kong south throughout Malesia to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Not recorded from Timor. Previously thought to be absent from Singapore but a small relict population has recently been discovered on Pulau Ubin. Leong & Lua (2021) Ficus subulata Discovered in Singapore