NATIVE FIGS: FOOD FOR WILDLIFE
Published in Nimbin Good Times. September 2004.
Plant Selection Guide
genus Ficus contains some of the most spectacular rainforest species in our local
region. With their strangling mass of roots and dark green glossy leaves,
they are a wonderful sight to behold on any rainforest walk. They were
often planted by the original farmers for shade and stock shelter and most of
the old farm houses in the Nimbin valley have a few large, mature fig trees around them. Importantly, native figs are a key component of the ecology in local
rainforests, as they produce masses of fruit which are avidly eaten by birds and
fruit bats. It is vital for people to include native figs in their
rainforest plantings to provide
wildlife food and help improve the local ecology.
are two basic types of figs. The stranglers begin life as an epiphyte high up in the
branches of a tree. Roots of the fig grow slowly down the trunk. Once they reach the ground,
the roots thicken and form a lattice work around the trunk
of the host tree eventually strangling it. The
other type of figs are the non stranglers, which grow in the
ground or over rocks.
large growing species are only suitable for parks, farms, huge gardens and so forth.
household gardens, their invasive root systems and size will present
problems for water pipes, telephone lines and building foundations. Only the
creek sandpaper fig may be considered for small allotments. You may like to use
native fig species as pot plants, instead of the ubiquitous rubber plant (F
elastica) or weeping fig (F benjamina). With proper
care they may be kept in containers for years and then planted out when they
become too large. Ficus species can also make highly desirable bonsai specimens.
All Ficus species may be planted directly in the ground with slow release
fertiliser, regular watering and good mulching. However,
be given sufficient space, as most species grow
into very large trees. Stranglers may also
be established in
the fork of an old tree. This must be done during the wet season with plenty of
leaf litter, so that the plant becomes well established before the dry season.
Another alternative is the place a staghorn (an epiphytic fern) high up on the
trunk of a camphor laurel and plant a Ficus seedling in the fern. The fig will
grow and strangle the camphor tree, although you have to be patient as this will
take years. People
living in drier areas should choose those species found in dry rainforests,
such as Port Jackson Fig, Deciduous Fig and Sandpaper Fig.
should avoid planting exotic figs as they usually do not set fruit in Australia, thus
denying wildlife a vital food source. Each Ficus species is pollinated by its
own exclusive wasp species. For exotic figs, these insects are not present in Australia
and fruit/viable seed will not be produced. This is probably just as well
because large, fast growing species, such as the rubber tree (F elastica),
potential to become an invasive weed in the local rainforests.
A complete list of figs native to the
Northern Rivers is presented, as well as the small leaved fig (F microcarpa) from south
Queensland. If you have sufficient room, plant several species so that the wildlife will have fruit over much of the year.
At the end of each description is a summary: height (m), growth rate (moderate/fast)
and fruiting season. Rainforest type is also indicated by STR (Subtropical Rainforest),
DR (Dry Rainforest) and LR (Littoral Rainforest). Native figs are usually
propagated from fresh seed, although some species may be grown from cuttings.
(F coronata). A bushy, small growing species often found along creeks hence its
common name. It is a non strangler and is less invasive than the larger fig
The fruit is apparently edible for humans, with a few plants producing sweet
fruit comparable with the commercial fig (F carica). Even so, variability is the major
problem as most trees yield inferior fruit covered with irritating hairs. It does best with plenty of
water and good soils, being excellent for stream bank regeneration. 8-10m.
Fast. Jan – Sept. STR, LR, DR. Seed/cuttings.
Sandpaper Fig (F fraseri). A common, fast growing species that will often self regenerate.
The tree is a valuable food source for birds, especially as the fruit is produced in
spring when food from other sources is limited. It is easy to grow and plants will
establish quickly in moist fertile soils. May be briefly deciduous in cold areas.
6-15m. Fast. May – Feb.
STR, LR, DR.
STR, LR, DR. Seed/cuttings.
Moreton Bay Fig (F macrophylla) is a very large growing species, with a
massive grey trunk and spreading branches. 20m. Moderate. Feb – May. STR, LR, DR. Seed.
Small Leaved Fig (F microcarpa, var hilli) is a medium to large tree,
which grows in warmer areas, especially in littoral rainforest. 20m, Fast.
September - October. STR,
Small Fruited Fig (F obliqua). Medium to very large tree growing in
warmer lowland areas. 15-20m. Moderate. Feb- July. STR,
Port Jackson Fig or Rusty Fig (F rubiginosa) is a non strangling fig, which is often
found growing over rocky outcrops. The fruit is an important food source for
many bird species. The Rock Fig (F platypoda) from Queensland is now included
within this species. Port Jackson Fig is suitable to grow in harsh, dry
conditions and is more cold tolerant than other large figs. 15-30m. Moderate. Feb – July
Deciduous Fig (F superba var henneana) is strangling fig found in
drier rainforests. Trees have a short deciduous period. 15-20m. Moderate. Jan
– Aug. STR, LR, DR. Seed.
White Fig (F virens) Medium to large tree, which grows as a strangler or
on rock outcrops. 20m. Moderate. June – Oct. STR. Seed/tip cuttings.
Nipple Fig (F watkinsiana) is a common species in the Northern
Rivers region, growing into a very large tree. 20-30m. Moderate. July – Sept. STR, LR.
2004. David McMinn. All rights reserved.