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The Cape fig
or Broom cluster fig
) is a widespread Afrotropical species of cauliflorous fig. This fast-growing, deciduous or evergreen tree usually reaches 5 to 12 m, but may attain a height of 35 m to 40 m. Large specimens develop a massive spreading crown, fluted trunks and buttress roots. In cooler climes it is coastal, but they may be found at up to 2,500 m altitude. The heavily clustered fruit suggest fecundity, and some trees in East Africa have been venerated as sacred shrines in animist practices. Over its extensive range it is variable with respect to leaf shape, texture of the leaves and figs, deciduousness and overall size.
It is found from Cape Verde, The Gambia and Senegal across tropical West Africa to Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Eastwards it is found in Eritrea, northern Somalia and Yemen, and southwards to all African countries except Lesotho and the dry interior regions of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It is found in forests or grassy woodlands, and occurs at higher densities in well-watered, temperate uplands. It is absent or outnumbered at lower, warmer climes by the similarly cauliflorous species, F. sycomorus
The large, alternate and spirally arranged leaves are ovate to elliptic with irregularly serrated margins. Fresh foliage is a conspicuous red colour and the papery, 1 cm long stipules are soon dropped. The bark of younger trees is smooth and pale greyish-white in colour, in contrast to the flaky, yellow bark of F. sycomorus
. With increasing age the bark becomes darker and rough.
The fruit are carried on short or long drooping spurs (or fascicles) which may emerge from surface roots, the trunk or especially from lower main branches. The fruit are 2 to 4 cm in diameter and acquire a rosy, speckled exterior when ripe.
The wood is light and soft and is not much used commercially. All parts may exude a latex, which has some traditional medicinal applications. The latex has been shown to contain ursene and oleanane triterpenoids, which may be effective in cancer treatment, while a methanolic extract from the roots is potentially effective against chloroquine-resistant malaria. The fruit are edible and utilized in fresh or dried form by native people in many regions. They are also suited to preparation of fig preserve, if other suitable fruits are added.
is a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs, vines, epiphytes and hemiepiphytes in the family Moraceae. Collectively known as fig trees
, they are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the semi-warm temperate zone. The Common Fig (F. carica
) is a temperate species native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region (from Afghanistan to Portugal), which has been widely cultivated from ancient times for its fruit, also referred to as figs. The fruit of most other species are also edible though they are usually of only local economic importance or eaten as bushfood. However, they are extremely important food resources for wildlife. Figs are also of considerable cultural importance throughout the tropics, both as objects of worship and for their many practical uses.
Ficus is a pan-tropical genus of trees, shrubs and vines occupying a wide variety of ecological niches; most are evergreen, but some deciduous species are endemic to areas outside of the tropics and to higher elevations. Fig species are characterized by their unique inflorescence and distinctive pollination syndrome, which utilizes wasp species belonging to the Agaonidae family for pollination.
The specific identification of many of the species can be difficult, but figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize. Many have aerial roots and a distinctive shape or habit, and their fruits distinguish them from other plants. The fig fruit is an enclosed inflorescence, sometimes referred to as a syconium, an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig's tiny flowers. The unique fig pollination system, involving tiny, highly specific wasps, known as fig wasps that enter via ostiole these sub-closed inflorescences to both pollinate and lay their own eggs, has been a constant source of inspiration and wonder to biologists. Finally, there are three vegetative traits that together are unique to figs. All figs possess a white to yellowish latex, some in copious quantities; the twig has paired stipules or a circular stipule scar if the stipules have fallen off; and the lateral veins at the base of the leaf are steep, forming a tighter angle with the midrib than the other lateral veins, a feature referred to as "tri-veined".
There are no unambiguous older fossils of Ficus. However, current molecular clock estimates indicate that Ficus is a relatively ancient genus being at least 60 million years old, and possibly as old as 80 million years. The main radiation of extant species, however, may have taken place more recently, between 20 and 40 million years ago.
Some better known species that represent the diversity of the genus include the Common Fig which is a small temperate deciduous tree whose fingered fig leaf is well known in art and iconography; the Weeping Fig (F. benjamina
) a hemi-epiphyte with thin tough leaves on pendulous stalks adapted to its rain forest habitat; the rough-leaved sandpaper figs from Australia; the Creeping Fig (F. pumila
), a vine whose small, hard leaves form a dense carpet of foliage over rocks or garden walls.
Moreover, figs with different plant habits have undergone adaptive radiation in different biogeographic regions, leading to very high levels of alpha diversity. In the tropics, it is quite common to find that Ficus is the most species-rich plant genus in a particular forest. In Asia as many as 70 or more species can co-exist. Ficus species richness declines with an increase in latitude in both hemispheres.
Ecology and uses
Figs are keystone species in many rainforest ecosystems. Their fruit are a key resource for some frugivores including fruit bats, capuchin monkeys, langurs and mangabeys. They are even more important for some birds. Asian barbets, pigeons, hornbills, fig-parrots and bulbuls are examples of taxa that may almost entirely subsist on figs when these are in plenty. Many Lepidoptera caterpillars feed on fig leaves, for example several Euploea
species (Crow butterflies), the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus
), the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes
), the Brown Awl (Badamia exclamationis
), and Chrysodeixis eriosoma
, Choreutidae and Copromorphidae moths. The Citrus long-horned beetle (Anoplophora chinensis
), for example, has larvae that feed on wood, including that of fig trees; it can become a pest in fig plantations. Similarly, the Sweet Potato Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci
) is frequently found as a pest on figs grown as potted plants and is spread through the export of these plants to other localities. For a list of other diseases common to fig trees, see List of foliage plant diseases (Moraceae).
The wood of fig trees is often soft and the latex precludes its use for many purposes. It was used to make mummy caskets in Ancient Egypt. Certain fig species (mainly F. cotinifolia
, F. insipida
and F. padifolia
) are traditionally used in Mesoamerica to produce papel amate (Nahuatl: amatl
). Mutuba (F. natalensis
) is used to produce barkcloth in Uganda. Pou (F. religiosa
) leaves' shape inspired one of the standard kbach rachana, decorative elements in Cambodian architecture. Indian Banyan (F. bengalensis
) and the Indian Rubber Plant, as well as other species, have use in herbalism.
Figs have figured prominently in some human cultures. There is evidence that figs, specifically the Common Fig (F. carica
) and Sycamore Fig (F. sycomorus
), were among the first – if not the very first – plant species that were deliberately bred for agriculture in the Middle East, starting more than 11,000 years ago. Nine subfossil F. carica
figs dated to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). These were a parthenogenesis type and thus apparently an early cultivar. This find predates the cultivation of grain in the Middle East by many hundreds of years.
Cultural and spiritual significance
Fig trees have profoundly influenced culture through several religious traditions. Among the more famous species are the Sacred Fig tree (Pipal
, or Po
, Ficus religiosa
) and the Banyan Fig (Ficus benghalensis
). The oldest living plant of known planting date is a Ficus religiosa
tree known as the Sri Maha Bodhi planted in the temple at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by King Tissa in 288 BC. The common fig is one of the two sacred trees of Islam, and there is a sura in Quran named "The Fig" or At-Tin
. In East Asia, figs are important in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The Buddha is traditionally held to have found bodhi
(enlightenment) while meditating under a Sacred Fig (F. religiosa
). The same species was Ashvattha, the "world tree" of Hinduism. The Plaksa Pra-sravana was said to be a fig tree between the roots of which the Sarasvati River sprang forth; it is usually held to be a Sacred Fig but more probably seems to be a Wavy-leaved Fig (F. infectoria
). The Common Fig tree is cited in the Bible, where in Genesis 3:7, Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with fig leaves. The fig fruit is also included in the list of food found in the Promised Land, according to the Torah (Deut. 8). Jesus cursed a fig tree for bearing no fruit (Mark 11:12–14). The fig tree was sacred in ancient Cyprus where it was a symbol of fertility.
Fig pollination and fig fruit
Many fig species are grown for their fruits, though only Ficus carica
is cultivated to any extent for this purpose. The fig fruits, important as both food and traditional medicine, contain laxative substances, flavonoids, sugars, vitamins A and C, acids and enzymes. However, figs are skin allergens, and the latex is a serious eye irritant. The fig is a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. The genus Dorstenia
, also in the figs family (Moraceae), exhibits similar tiny flowers arranged on a receptacle but in this case the receptacle is a more or less flat, open surface. Propagating figs can be done by seeds, cuttings, air-layering or grafting. However, as with any plant, figs grown from seed are not necessarily genetically identical to the parent and are only propagated this way for breeding purposes.
Depending on the species, each fruit can contain up to several hundred to several thousand seeds.
Figs, fresh Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 310 kJ (74 kcal)
Carbohydrates 19 g
- Sugars 16 g
- Dietary fiber 3 g
Fat 0.3 g
Protein 0.8 g
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Figs, dried Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,041 kJ (249 kcal)
Carbohydrates 64 g
- Sugars 48 g
- Dietary fiber 10 g
Fat 1 g
Protein 3 g
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database