Ficus microcarpa var. latifolia

Chinese banyan


Ficus microcarpa var. latifolia

(Miq.) Corner 1960

pronounced: FY-kuss mike-row-KAR-puh variety lat-ee-FOH-lee-uh

(Moraceae — the fig family)


common names: Chinese banyan, laurel fig

native 4Many botanists regard this name as a synonym for Ficus microcarpa, and the Australian Plant Census now treats it thus. Others think the tree is a form of Ficus microcarpa. The tree photographed is located by the side of the road opposite the old helipad site in Nelly Bay, growing as a strangler on the host tree. It is highly visible to passers-by, and often noticed by visitors to the island, who ask what it is; so I am giving it the benefit of the doubt, and treating it as a separate variety.

Ficus is the Latin word for fig; microcarpa is from the Greek μικρος (mikros), small, and καρπος (karpos), fruit; latifolia is from the Latin latus, wide, and folium, a leaf. The chief difference between the variety and its parent appears to be that the leaves of the variety are a little smaller, and wider in relation to their length. They are broadly elliptical in shape, obtuse to shortly bluntly acuminate, rounded to widely cuneate at the base, and are up to about 9 cm by 6.5 cm in size, on petioles up to about 1 cm long.

The trees grow in littoral and riverine forest. As well as in North Queensland, this variety is found also in Celebes, the Moluccas, New Guinea, and the Caroline Islands. It has also been introduced as an ornamental to other parts of the world, where, if the pollinating wasp (Parapristina verticillata) is also introduced, the tree often becomes an invasive species, growing wherever the birds deposit the seeds, even in cracks in concrete.

The tree is a perfect example of the way a strangler fig grows, with the host tree still alive within its clutches. This tree is surrounded by numerous seedlings that have formed into an impenetrable thicket. Strangler figs start life as a tiny seed deposited by a bird in the canopy. The roots grow down to the forest floor, where they take root and begin to take nutrients from the soil. Gradually the roots wrap around the host tree, widen, and slowly form a lattice-work that surrounds the host’s trunk. The fig’s crown grows a foliage which soon overshadows the host tree. Eventually the host dies, leaving the fig with a hollow trunk.

Ironically, this agent of death, with its hollow trunk containing so many nooks and crannies provides shelter for many small forest creatures, and is an abundant source of food with its vast crop of good-tasting fruits. Many of the seeds are not destroyed when they are eaten by birds and animals, and are passed out in the dung, often far from the mother tree. In many forests the fig tree is a keystone species, as during some parts of the year it is virtually the only tree producing fruit. During these lean times, many small animals and birds feed almost exclusively on figs.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2009-2014
Page last updated 30th December 2018