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Port Jackson Fig
Ficus rubiginosa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Urticales
Family: Moraceae
Genus: Ficus
Species: F. rubiginosa
Binomial name
Ficus rubiginosa
Desf. ex Vent.

The Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) , also known as the Little-leaf Fig or the Rusty Fig, is a native of eastern Australia and a banyan of the genus Ficus which contains around 750 species worldwide in warm climates, including the edible fig (Ficus carica).

Like all figs it requires pollination by a particular wasp species to set seed. This actually occurs fairly readily as fig seedlings are a common sight in walls, cracks, crevices and buildings in urban areas of cities such as Sydney. Well known in parks and public gardens in east coast towns and cities, it is also a valuable plant for wildlife and habitat. Old specimens can reach tremendous size. Its aggressive root system precludes its use in all but the largest private gardens, although it is highly popular and well-suited for use in bonsai.

Contents

Taxonomy

The Port Jackson fig was described by French botanist René Louiche Desfontaines. Its specific epithet rubiginosa related to the rusty coloration of the undersides of the leaves.[1] Indeed, rusty fig is an alternate common name; others include Illawarra fig and Port Jackson fig.[1] It was known as damun (pron. "tam-mun") to the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney basin.[2]

Description

Ficus rubiginosa forms a spreading densely shading tree when mature, and may reach 30 m (100 ft) in height, although it rarely exceeds 10 m (30 ft) in the Sydney region.[3] The trunk is buttressed and can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) in diameter, and the bark is a yellow-brown in colour.[1] Its appearance is that of a small version of its relative the Moreton Bay Fig, the Port Jackson being generally smaller, with smaller fruit and leaves. Its ovate to oval-shaped leaves are 6-10 cm long on 1-4 cm petioles. Often growing in pairs, the figs are yellow ripening to red in colour, tipped with a small nipple and on a 2-5 mm stalk.[3] Fruit ripen throughout the year, although there is a preponderance from February to July.[1]

Having similar ranges in the wild they are often confused, the smaller leaves, shorter fruit stalks, and rusty colour of the undersides of the leaves of the Port Jackson Fig being the easiest distinguishing feature.[3]

In tropical and humid climates, the lower branches of the Port Jackson Fig may form aerial roots which strike root upon reaching to the ground, forming secondary root systems. This process is known as banyaning after the banyan tree of which it is a characteristic.

Distribution and habitat

Ficus rubiginosa occurs from north Queensland southwards along the eastern coastline of Australia to the vicinity of Bega on the South Coast of New South Wales.[3] It is found on the edges of rainforest and gullies and rocky hillsides.[3] Fig seedlings often arise in cracks in stone in cliffs and rock faces in natural environments,[1] and in brickwork on buildings and elsewhere in the urban environment.

Ecology

Port Jackson Fig leaves and fruit

It is pollinated by a symbiotic relationship with a fig wasp species (Pleistodontes imperialis) The fertilised female wasp enters the receptive 'fig' (the syconium) through a tiny hole at the crown (the ostiole). She crawls around the inflorescenced interior of the fig, pollinating some of the female flowers. She then lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. After several weeks development in their galls, the male wasps emerge before the females. They chew holes in the galls containing females and fertilise them through the hole they have just chewed. Males return later to mated females, and enlarge the mating holes to enable the females to emerge. Some males then chew their way through the syconium wall, which allows the females to disperse after collecting pollen from the now fully developed male flowers. Females then have a short time (< 48 hours) to find a tree with receptive syconia to successfully reproduce and disperse pollen.

The fruit is consumed by many bird species including the Rose-crowned Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus regina), Wompoo Fruit-dove (P. magnificus), Wonga Pigeon (Leucosarcia melanoleuca), Topknot Pigeon (Lopholaimus antarcticus), Australasian Figbird (Sphecotheres vieilloti), Green Catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris), Regent Bowerbird (Sericulus chrysocephalus), Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina), and Pacific Koel (Eudynamys orientalis).[1]

Cultivation

It is commonly used as a large ornamental tree in eastern Australia, in parts of New Zealand, and also in Hawaii and California in the USA, where it is also listed as an invasive species in some areas. It is useful as a shade tree in public parks and golf courses.[4] Despite the size of the leaves, it is popular for bonsai work as it is extremely forgiving to work with and hard to kill; the leaves reduce readily by leaf-pruning in early summer. It has been described as the best tree for a beginner to work with, and is one of the most frequently used native species in Australia.[5] A narrow leaved form with its origins somewhere north of Sydney is also seen in cultivation.[6]

Ficus rubiginosa is also suited for use as an indoor plant in low, medium or brightly-lit indoor spaces, although a variegated form requires brighter light.[7]

It is easily propagated by cuttings or aerial layering.[1]

See also

Port Jackson Fig growing on Narrabeen sandstone at Barrenjoey

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Floyd, Alex G. (2009). Rainforest Trees of Mainland Southeastern Australia. Lismore, NSW: Terania Rainforest Publishing. p. 233. ISBN 09589443673.  
  2. ^ Troy, Jakelin (1993). The Sydney language. Canberra: Jakelin Troy. pp. 61. ISBN 0-646-11015-2.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Fairley A, Moore P (2000). Native Plants of the Sydney District:An Identification Guide (2nd ed.). Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press. pp. 62. ISBN 0-7318-1031-7.  
  4. ^ Halliday, Ivan (1989). A Field Guide to Australian Trees. Melbourne: Hamlyn Australia. pp. 200. ISBN 0-947334-08-4.  
  5. ^ McCrone, Mark (2006). "Growing Port Jackson Fig as Bonsai in a Warm Temperate Climate". ASGAP Australian Plants As Bonsai Study Group Newsletter (11): 3–4.  
  6. ^ Webber, Len (1991). Rainforest to Bonsai. East Roseville, NSW: Simon and Schuster. pp. 114. ISBN 0-7318-0237-3.  
  7. ^ Ratcliffe, David & Patricia (1987). Australian Native Plants for Indoors. Crows Nest, NSW: Little Hills Press. pp. 90. ISBN 0-949773-49-2.  

External links

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