Ficus microcarpa

native banyan


Ficus microcarpa

L.f. 1781

pronounced: FY-kuss mike-row-KAR-puh

(Moraceae — the fig family)


common names: native banyan, small-fruited fig

native 4Ficus is the Latin word for fig; microcarpa is from the Greek μικρος (mikros), small, and καρπος (karpos), fruit.

This is our local native Banyan Fig, and the photographs show the fine example at the Environmental Walk in Nelly Bay. Ficus microcarpa is found in Australia on Cape York Peninsula, north-east Queensland and as far south as coastal central Queensland, in an altitudinal range from sea level to 400 m. It grows in well-developed rainforest, drier, more seasonal rain forest, and beach forest. It also occurs in Sri Lanka and India, southern China, the Malay Archipelago, the Ryukyu Islands, and New Caledonia.

It is a strangler or a banyan with prop roots and flying buttresses. The bark is khaki or mustard coloured, and, when cut, copiously exudes its latex. The leaf petioles are channelled on the upper surface. Leaf-bearing twigs are flattish- triangular in cross-section. The leaf blades measure about 3 – 12 by 1.5 – 9 cm. Small oil dots are visible with a hand lens on both surfaces of the leaf blade.

The figs are axillary, sessile, depressed pear-shaped, about 8 – 10 by 10 – 12 mm. Their colour ranges from white to red to purple to black. The symbiotic pollinating fig wasp is Eupristina verticillata.

Caterpillars of the moth Agape chloropyga feed on the tree.

Ficus microcarpa has been widely planted as a street and park tree, not only in Australian cities south of the tropics, but also in many other countries. Where the pollinating wasp is not introduced with them, the trees make good shade trees, although their roots are invasive. Where the wasp accompanies or follows them, however, birds drop the pollinated figs in all sorts of places, and seedlings are found, not only on the ground under the trees, but also in cracks between the stones of bridges and buildings; the tree then becomes a major invasive species, and the saplings can cause extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure. This has happened in Hawaii, Florida, Bermuda, Central America and South America. I was interested to read that in 2004 the first Ficus microcarpa seedlings were observed self-establishing in Brisbane: before this all trees of the species had been cultivated specimens. It is probable that the wasps had been brought down to Brisbane the 600 km from the native range of the species through an inland trough system drawing tropical air to the south-east over a few days.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2011, 2017
Page last updated 30th December 2018