white fig


Ficus virens

Aiton 1789

pronounced: FY-kuss VIH-renz

(Moraceae — the fig family)


common name: white fig

native 4Ficus is Latin for fig; virens is Latin for ‘being green’, which seems a bit odd for a species one of whose main claims to fame is its white fruits.

This fig is found in India, south-east Asia, Malaysia and northern Australia. One of the most famous specimens of the tree is the Curtain Fig Tree of the Atherton Tableland. The one pictured here is in Arcadia, by the bus stop opposite Champagne Apartments in Marine Parade.

Ficus virens is one of the rare deciduous trees in the tropical lowland rainforest. It is quite a large tree, which can be either a banyan-type tree as the one here, or a strangler as the one near Atherton. As I mentioned, it is deciduous in habit, although new foliage is produced within a week or two of the leaves falling. New foliage is attractive, having pink tones along the leaf edges and extending into the whole of the leaf, giving it a bronze-green tinge. Mature foliage is slightly leathery, and in time lightens to a delicate lime green. The leaves are oblong-elliptic to ovate or lanceolate, mostly 5 – 20 cm long, 2.5 – 6 cm wide, with prominent veins.

The fruits are small, about 1 cm in diameter, and are a greenish white changing to a purplish colour with red dots as they ripen. They are mostly borne amongst the leaves, more or less sessile, usually paired.

The article on the Small-leafed Fig describes how a strangler fig develops, but for a curtain tree to develop, as with the magnificent 500 year old one near Atherton, there have to be additional circumstances. As with all stranglers, the seed must first be deposited in part of the canopy of another tree, germinate, and put down its first roots to the ground. Other aerial roots then develop, encircle and eventually strangle the host tree. In the formation of a curtain tree, the host tree falls into, and slants against, another tree, and from the fig’s sloping trunk vertical roots descend to form the curtain-like appearance. The host tree eventually rots away, leaving the free-standing fig.

When not surrounded by other trees, Ficus virens will put down aerial roots to prop up its branches. These extend to the ground and often rival the main trunk in size.

Known in India as Iththi, this is a sacred tree there, and domestic use, such as construction, furniture, firewood, etc., is prohibited. According to traditional texts, great misfortune will fall on those who use the trees for building houses. The stem and bark of the tree are, however, used in medicine for blood diseases, apoplexy, vertigo and delirium.

Both the heartwood and the sapwood of the timber are light yellow-brown, and the wood, classified as a light hardwood, is both soft and light, and non-durable. The texture is slightly coarse, with the grain interlocked. The timber is suitable for plywood, disposable chopsticks, packing cases, wooden sandals, panelling, mouldings, and ornamental items.

The pollinator is a Blastophaga wasp.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2009
Page last updated 1st January 2019