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Ficus rubiginosa Desf. ex Vent. 1803
pronounced: FY-kuss roo-bij-ih-NO-suh
(Moraceae – the fig family)
common names: Rusty Fig, Port Jackson Fig
This fig is native to eastern coastal regions of Queensland and NSW, usually found in closed forests and near estuarine areas, often on rocky outcrops or cliffs, in climates ranging from tropical to warm temperate. It usually establishes itself as a hemi-epiphyte or a lithophyte, developing into a large strangler or rock-breaker on favourable sites, its massive root system frequently found growing out of or enclosing large boulders. When its roots reach good soils it develops into a wide spreading tree, often wider than it is tall. The tree can reach 30 m in height, although 10 m is more usual. The trunk is often buttressed and can reach 1.5 m in diameter, and the bark is greyish. In tropical and humid climates, the lower branches may form aerial roots which strike root on reaching the ground, forming secondary root systems. Seedlings are often found in cracks in stone on cliffs and rock faces in natural environments, and on brickwork and stone work in urban environments, where the tree can be very destructive.
It is reckoned by some botanists that there are two forms of the tree, f. rubiginosa with hairy leaves that are rusty red on the underside, occurring in both NSW and Queensland, and f. glabrescens, with glabrous leaves, confined to Queensland, and where the lower surfaces of the leaves have the merest suspicion of red, and to which all the ones I have seen on Magnetic Island would appear to belong.
The foliage is bright shiny green on the upper surface (and sometimes, as mentioned above, a rusty red on the lower). The individual leaves are elliptic to oval-shaped, usually 6 – 10 cm long and up to 6 cm wide, on 1 – 4 cm petioles.
As with all figs, the fruit is an inverted inflorescence called a syconium, with tiny flowers on the inner surface, both male and female flowers often in the same fruit, although they mature at different times. Pollination of this species is accomplished by the fig wasp Pleistodontes imperialis. This wasp crossed the ocean between Australia and New Zealand some time between 1960 and 1972, and seedlings of the previously infertile trees of Ficus rubiginosa that had been planted as ornamentals and street trees began appearing in brick and stone walls and on other trees, particularly in parks and gardens around Auckland.
The fruits, often growing in pairs, are characteristic yellow figs ripening to a deep red colour, and are about 1 cm in diameter, tipped with a small nipple and on a 2 – 5 mm stalk. Fruits ripen throughout the year, though there is a preponderance in spring and summer. They are eaten by several bird species, including the Australasian Fig Bird (Sphecotheres vieilloti), the Topknot Pigeon (Lopholaimus antarcticus), the Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), and the Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina). Fruit bats also feed on them. The caterpillars of the moth Eustixis caminaea use the tree as a food plant.
The Rusty Fig is commonly used as a large ornamental tree in eastern Australia, in Western Australia in and around Perth, on the North Island of New Zealand, in Hawaii and California, often in public parks and golf courses.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2014
Page last updated 5th December 2016