fiddle-leaf fig


Ficus lyrata

Warb. 1894

pronounced: FY-kuss ly-RAH-yuh

(Moraceae — the fig family)


common name: fiddle-leaf fig

Ficus is the Latin word for fig; lyrata is from the Greek λυρα (lyra), a lyre, lute, referring to the shape of the leaves.

This is a banyan fig that commonly starts its life as an epiphyte high in the crown on another tree in the lowland tropical rainforests of western Africa, from Cameroon westward to Sierra Leone, its seed having been deposited by a bird. It then sends roots down to the ground, and these envelop the trunk of the host tree and slowly strangle it. The fiddle-leaf fig can also grow as a free-standing tree on its own, growing anything up to 15 m tall.
The trunk is solitary, with rough scaling reddish brown bark; there are no aerial roots, surface roots or buttresses.

The simple alternate dark green leaves are variable in shape, but generally have a broad apex and a narrow middle, resembling the shape of a violin (panduriform). They are up to 45 cm long by 30 cm wide, though usually smaller, with a leathery texture and a wavy margin, and with prominent venation. The syconia are green figs with white dots, up to about 3 cm in diameter, sessile, either solitary or in pairs.

The pollinating wasp of the species is Agaon spatulatum; as far as I can tell, this wasp is not found in eastern Australia, and viable fruit cannot be produced here. I understand, however, that the wasp is present in some parts of Western Australia, where the tree could become an invasive species.

The tree is useful in landscaping as a specimen or as a shade tree, although it can be messy when it sheds its figs and large leaves. In cooler climates, it is a favourite for growing in offices and lobbies, where it is an effective air purifier. Indoors, it is a slow grower and keeps its form for ages without pruning. It is hardy, and, given conditions it likes, does not usually shed its leaves.

Ficus lyrata is propagated by air layering.


Photographs taken at Nelly Bay & Arcadia, 2012
Page last updated 30th December 2018