Ficus polita
By Geoff Nichols | Mon, 02 April 2018


House and home improvement gardening

Ficus polita; Wild Rubber Fig; Wilderubbervy; umKhiwane or umPhumela

This is not a tree for small gardens. It becomes a giant with a radius of at least 15 metres and a height of about 15-18 metres. Often these trees become what I call “paddock trees” or trees that are left when the original forest was cleared to plant cane or build houses. They were probably too big to chop down then, and now, they are really old giants that often survive in suburbia providing shelter for humans, and food for the various animals that survive in our cities. One specimen still lives on a traffic island created around the tree where 3 roads - Old Bush Road, Moreland Drive and Ronan Road - meet in La Lucia.

The Wild Rubber Fig has a flattened crown with huge horizontal limbs that seem to reach out forever. Individual trees will produce huge numbers of figs that pop out of the stems on short fig-bearing branchlets that for me, when there are no figs on them, resemble bent wheel nut studs.

The simplest way to propagate these trees is to check your gutters and other sheds and buildings for seedlings of this and the other figs species that occur in our region. But jokes aside, seed, in my opinion, is the best method of propagating this species. Collect the figs from under the tree, squish them between your fingers and sow this pulp on a seed tray filled with a sandy, well-drained seedling mixture. Once the seeds germinate in about 10-14 days, prick out the seedlings into individual containers. These seedlings must be grown in full sun to allow for maximum growth and vigour. The sunlight also helps to reduce soil pathogens like damping off fungus.

Remember that the figs have spreading surface root systems that will block sewer lines and drains. Give these trees ample room to grow and you will have years of fun watching the parade of wildlife that visits them. From a wildlife point of view, these trees, as they get older and begin to set figs, are heaven-on-earth. The figs are eaten by everything from genets, baboons, vervet monkeys, bushbabies and fruit bats, down to antelope and bushpig. Birds like hornbills, turacos (louries), pigeons and bulbuls will feast on the fruit, and the soft wood of dead branches makes wonderful nesting logs for the primary hole-excavators and nesters like Barbets and Woodpeckers. Then the holes are sublet to other species like Green Wood-Hoopoes, Starlings and Grey-headed Sparrows. As the trees become gnarled and twisted the cavities created in the tree trunk itself will shelter a whole range of wildlife that need these “flats for rats”. The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of the beautiful Common Fig-tree Blue butterfly Myrina silenus.

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