Higher classification Moraceae
Scientific name Ficus
|Lower classifications Common fig, Weeping fig, Rubber fig, Ficus microcarpa, Fiddle‑leaf fig|
Similar Common fig, Water, Date palm, Leaf, Chrysanthemum
Ficus berries food for birds
Ficus (/ˈfaɪkəs/ or /ˈfiːkəs/) is a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs, vines, epiphytes and hemiepiphytes in the family Moraceae. Collectively known as fig trees or figs, they are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the semi-warm temperate zone. The common fig (F. carica) is a temperate species native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region (from Afghanistan to Portugal), which has been widely cultivated from ancient times for its fruit, also referred to as figs. The fruit of most other species are also edible though they are usually of only local economic importance or eaten as bushfood. However, they are extremely important food resources for wildlife. Figs are also of considerable cultural importance throughout the tropics, both as objects of worship and for their many practical uses.
- Ficus berries food for birds
- Ficus trees
- Ecology and uses
- Fig fruit and reproduction system
- Mutualism with the pollinating fig wasps
- Cultural and spiritual significance
- List of famous fig trees
Ficus is a pan-tropical genus of trees, shrubs and vines occupying a wide variety of ecological niches; most are evergreen, but some deciduous species are endemic to areas outside of the tropics and to higher elevations. Fig species are characterized by their unique inflorescence and distinctive pollination syndrome, which utilizes wasp species belonging to the family Agaonidae for pollination.
The specific identification of many of the species can be difficult, but figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize. Many have aerial roots and a distinctive shape or habit, and their fruits distinguish them from other plants. The fig fruit is an enclosed inflorescence, sometimes referred to as a syconium, an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig's tiny flowers. The unique fig pollination system, involving tiny, highly specific wasps, known as fig wasps that enter via ostiole these sub-closed inflorescences to both pollinate and lay their own eggs, has been a constant source of inspiration and wonder to biologists. Finally, there are three vegetative traits that together are unique to figs. All figs possess a white to yellowish latex, some in copious quantities; the twig has paired stipules or a circular stipule scar if the stipules have fallen off; and the lateral veins at the base of the leaf are steep, forming a tighter angle with the midrib than the other lateral veins, a feature referred to as "tri-veined".
There are no unambiguous older fossils of Ficus. However, current molecular clock estimates indicate that Ficus is a relatively ancient genus being at least 60 million years old, and possibly as old as 80 million years. The main radiation of extant species, however, may have taken place more recently, between 20 and 40 million years ago.
Some better-known species that represent the diversity of the genus include the common fig, a small temperate deciduous tree whose fingered fig leaf is well known in art and iconography; the weeping fig (F. benjamina), a hemi-epiphyte with thin tough leaves on pendulous stalks adapted to its rain forest habitat; the rough-leaved sandpaper figs from Australia; and the creeping fig (F. pumila), a vine whose small, hard leaves form a dense carpet of foliage over rocks or garden walls.
Moreover, figs with different plant habits have undergone adaptive radiation in different biogeographic regions, leading to very high levels of alpha diversity. In the tropics, it is quite common to find that Ficus is the most species-rich plant genus in a particular forest. In Asia as many as 70 or more species can co-exist. Ficus species richness declines with an increase in latitude in both hemispheres.
Ecology and uses
Figs are keystone species in many rainforest ecosystems. Their fruit are a key resource for some frugivores including fruit bats, capuchin monkeys, langurs and mangabeys. They are even more important for some birds. Asian barbets, pigeons, hornbills, fig-parrots and bulbuls are examples of taxa that may almost entirely subsist on figs when these are in plenty. Many Lepidoptera caterpillars feed on fig leaves, for example several Euploea species (crow butterflies), the plain tiger (Danaus chrysippus), the giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), the brown awl (Badamia exclamationis), and Chrysodeixis eriosoma, Choreutidae and Copromorphidae moths. The citrus long-horned beetle (Anoplophora chinensis), for example, has larvae that feed on wood, including that of fig trees; it can become a pest in fig plantations. Similarly, the sweet potato whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) is frequently found as a pest on figs grown as potted plants and is spread through the export of these plants to other localities. For a list of other diseases common to fig trees, see List of foliage plant diseases (Moraceae).
The wood of fig trees is often soft and the latex precludes its use for many purposes. It was used to make mummy caskets in Ancient Egypt. Certain fig species (mainly F. cotinifolia, F. insipida and F. padifolia) are traditionally used in Mesoamerica to produce papel amate (Nahuatl: āmatl). Mutuba (F. natalensis) is used to produce barkcloth in Uganda. Pou (F. religiosa) leaves' shape inspired one of the standard kbach rachana, decorative elements in Cambodian architecture. Indian banyan (F. bengalensis) and the Indian rubber plant, as well as other species, have use in herbalism.
Figs have figured prominently in some human cultures. There is evidence that figs, specifically the common fig (F. carica) and sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus), were among the first – if not the very first – plant species that were deliberately bred for agriculture in the Middle East, starting more than 11,000 years ago. Nine subfossil F. carica figs dated to about 9400–9200 BCE were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). These were a parthenogenetic type and thus apparently an early cultivar. This find predates the first known cultivation of grain in the Middle East by many hundreds of years.
World production of raw figs in 2013 was 1.1 million tonnes, led by Turkey with 0.3 million tonnes, double the volume of the next largest producer, Egypt (table). Dried fig production in 2013 was 133,447 tonnes globally, also led by Turkey with 36% of the total, followed by Morocco and Iran.
In a 100 gram serving, raw figs provide 74 calories, but no essential nutrients in significant content, all having less than 10% of the Daily Value (DV) (table). When dried (uncooked), however, 100 grams of figs supply 249 calories with the dietary mineral, manganese, in rich content (24% DV) and several other minerals and vitamin K in moderate amounts of the DV (table).
Fig fruit and reproduction system
Many fig species are grown for their fruits, though only Ficus carica is cultivated to any extent for this purpose. The fig fruits, important as both food and traditional medicine, contain laxative substances, flavonoids, sugars, vitamins A and C, acids and enzymes. However, figs are skin allergens, and the latex is a serious eye irritant.
A fig "fruit" is a type of multiple fruit known as a syconium, derived from an arrangement of many small flowers on an inverted, nearly closed receptacle. The many small flowers are unseen unless the fig is cut open. In Chinese the fig is called wú huā guǒ (simplified Chinese: 无花果; traditional Chinese: 無花果), "fruit without flower". In Bengali, where the common fig is called dumur, it is referenced in a proverb: tumi jeno dumurer phool hoe gele ("You have become [invisible like] the dumur flower").
The syconium often has a bulbous shape with a small opening (the ostiole) at the outward end that allows access to pollinators. The flowers are pollinated by very small wasps that crawl through the opening in search of a suitable place to lay eggs. Without this pollinator service fig trees could not reproduce by seed. In turn, the flowers provide a safe haven and nourishment for the next generation of wasps. This accounts for the frequent presence of wasp larvae in the fruit, and has led to a coevolutionary relationship. Technically, a fig fruit proper would be only one of the many tiny matured, seed-bearing gynoecia found inside one fig – if you cut open a fresh fig, individual fruit will appear as fleshy "threads", each bearing a single seed inside. The genus Dorstenia, also in the fig family (Moraceae), exhibits similar tiny flowers arranged on a receptacle but in this case the receptacle is a more or less flat, open surface.
Fig plants can be monoecious (hermaphrodite) or gynodioecious (hermaphrodite and female). Nearly half of fig species are gynodioecious, and therefore have some plants with inflorescences (syconium) with long styled pistillate flowers, and other plants with staminate flowers mixed with short styled pistillate flowers. The long flowers styles tend to prevent wasps from laying their eggs within the ovules, while the short styled flowers are accessible for egg laying.
All the native fig trees of the American continent are hermaphrodites, as well as species like Indian banyan (F. benghalensis), weeping fig (F. benjamina), Indian rubber plant (F. elastica), fiddle-leaved fig (F. lyrata), Moreton Bay fig (F. macrophylla), Chinese banyan (F. microcarpa), sacred fig (F. religiosa) and sycamore fig (F. sycomorus).
On the other hand, the common fig (Ficus carica) is a gynodioecious plant, as well as lofty fig or clown fig (F. aspera), Roxburgh fig (F. auriculata), mistletoe fig (F. deltoidea), F. pseudopalma, creeping fig (F. pumila) and related species.
The hermaphrodite common figs are called "inedible figs" or caprifigs; in traditional culture in the Mediterranean region they were considered food for goats (Capra aegagrus). In the female fig trees, the male flower parts fail to develop; they produce the "edible figs". Fig wasps grow in common fig caprifigs but not in the female syconiums because the female flower is too long for the wasp to successfully lay her eggs in them. Nonetheless, the wasp pollinates the flower with pollen from the caprifig it grew up in. When the wasp dies, it is broken down by enzymes (Ficain) inside the fig. Fig wasps are not known to transmit any diseases harmful to humans.
When a caprifig ripens, another caprifig must be ready to be pollinated. In temperate climes, wasps hibernate in figs, and there are distinct crops. Common fig caprifigs have three crops per year; edible figs have two. The first (breba) produces small fruits called olynth. Some parthenocarpic cultivars of common figs do not require pollination at all, and will produce a crop of figs (albeit sterile) in the absence of caprifigs or fig wasps.
Depending on the species, each fruit can contain hundreds or even thousand of seeds. Figs can be propagated by seeds, cuttings, air-layering or grafting. However, as with any plant, figs grown from seed are not necessarily genetically identical to the parent and are only propagated this way for breeding purposes.
Mutualism with the pollinating fig wasps
There is typically only one species of wasp capable of fertilizing the flowers of each species of fig, and therefore plantings of fig species outside of their native range results in effectively sterile individuals. For example, in Hawaii, some 60 species of figs have been introduced, but only four of the wasps that fertilize them have been introduced, so only four species of figs produce viable seeds there and can become invasive species. This is an example of mutualism, in which each organism (fig plant and fig wasp) benefit each other, in this case reproductively.
The intimate association between fig species and their wasp pollinators, along with the high incidence of a one-to-one plant-pollinator ratio have long led scientists to believe that figs and wasps are a clear example of coevolution. Morphological and reproductive behavior evidence, such as the correspondence between fig and wasp larvae maturation rates, have been cited as support for this hypothesis for many years. Additionally, recent genetic and molecular dating analyses have shown a very close correspondence in the character evolution and speciation phylogenies of these two clades.
Recently, molecular techniques including the combined use of microsatellite markers in combination with mitochondrial sequence analyses have suggested that the one-to-one relationships between figs and their pollinators may not be as strict as once believed The discovery of multiple genetically distinct, cryptic wasp species paired with individual fig species supports this concern, particularly considering that not all cryptic species are sister taxa and thus must have experienced a host shift at some point. These cryptic species lacked evidence of genetic introgression or backcrosses indicating limited fitness for hybrids and effective reproductive isolation and speciation.
The existence of cryptic species suggests that neither the number of symbionts nor their evolutionary relationships are necessarily fixed ecologically. Fifty percent of fig species host multiple wasp pollinators thus are not tied inextricably to any single symbiont. On the other hand, species of wasps have been shown to pollinate multiple host fig species While the morphological characteristics that facilitate the fig-wasp mutualisms are likely to be shared more fully in closer relatives, the absence of unique pairings would make it impossible to do a one-to-one tree comparison and difficult to determine cospeciation.
With 800 species, Ficus is by far the largest genus in the Moraceae, and is one of the largest genera of flowering plants currently described. The species currently classified within Ficus were originally split into several genera in the mid-1800s, providing the basis for a subgeneric classification when reunited into one genus in 1867. This classification put functionally dioecious species into four subgenera based on floral characters. In 1965, E. J. H. Corner reorganized the genus on the basis of breeding system, uniting these four dioecious subgenera into a single dioecious subgenus Ficus. Monoecious figs were classified within the subgenera Urostigma, Pharmacosycea and Sycomorus.
This traditional classification been called into question by recent phylogenetic studies employing genetic methods to investigate the relationships between representative members of the various sections of each subgenus. Of Corner's original subgeneric divisions of the genus, only Sycomorus is supported as monophyletic in the majority of phylogenetic studies. Notably, there is no clear split between dioecious and monoecious lineages. One of the two sections of Pharmacosycea, a monoecious group, form a monophyletic clade basal to the rest of the genus, which includes the other section of Pharmacosycea, the rest of the monoecious species, and all of the dioecious species. These remaining species are divided into two main monophyletic lineages (though the statistical support for these lineages isn't as strong as for the monophyly of the more derived clades within them). One consists of all sections of Urostigma except for section Urostigma s. s.. The other includes section Urostigma s. s., subgenus Sycomorus, and the species of subgenus Ficus, though the relationships of the sections of these groups to one another are not well resolved.
Cultural and spiritual significance
Fig trees have profoundly influenced culture through several religious traditions. Among the more famous species are the sacred fig tree (Pipal, bodhi, bo, or po, Ficus religiosa) and the banyan fig (Ficus benghalensis). The oldest living plant of known planting date is a Ficus religiosa tree known as the Sri Maha Bodhi planted in the temple at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by King Tissa in 288 BCE. The common fig is one of two significant trees in Islam, and there is a sura in Quran named "The Fig" or At-Tin (سوره تین). In East Asia, figs are important in Buddhism and Hinduism. In Jainism, the consumption of any fruit belonging to this genus is prohibited. The Buddha is traditionally held to have found bodhi (enlightenment) while meditating under a sacred fig (F. religiosa). The same species was Ashvattha, the "world tree" of Hinduism. The plaksa Pra-sravana was said to be a fig tree between the roots of which the Sarasvati River sprang forth; it is usually held to be a sacred fig but more probably seems to be a wavy-leaved fig (F. infectoria). According to the Kikuyu people, sacrifices to Ngai were performed under a sycomore tree (Mũkũyũ) and if one was not available, a fig tree (Mũgumo) would be used. The common fig tree is cited in the Bible, where in Genesis 3:7, Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with fig leaves. The fig fruit is also included in the list of food found in the Promised Land, according to the Torah (Deut. 8). Jesus cursed a fig tree for bearing no fruit (Mark 11:12–14). The fig tree was sacred in ancient Cyprus where it was a symbol of fertility.