Ficus capreifolia

Ficus capreifolia, Sandpaper Fig; Skurvevy (Afrikaans); ifubi, umdubu, umdubu womfula (Zulu)

 

Fig trees are for me, the most influential trees in a garden or wild habitat. They are mini ecosystems that attract insects, birds and mammals to the trees. They often start life as epiphytes, high up in forks or decaying patches on other trees, on rock ledges and in crevices in rock faces. In our cities, they colonise cracks and grooves in buildings, bridges and gutters – anywhere that water collects - allowing the small seeds to germinate in the most unlikely of places.
This is one of the few shrubby fig species in our region of KwaZulu-Natal. It will reach about 6 metres tall and its tangled, scrambling branches spread up to 10 metres horizontally from the main stem. The Sandpaper Fig, because of its scrambling habit, makes an excellent erosion control plant along stream and river banks and stormwater channels, and its smallish size suits its use in suburban gardens. When it is in fruit, the 35mm diameter, fleshy, orangey-yellow, pear-shaped figs are feasted on by fruit-eating birds, fruit bats and of course, monkeys. The young leaves are also the food for the caterpillars of the two species of Fig-tree Blue butterflies that are always living near our local fig species.
The leaves of this fig have a texture that is very like sandpaper and are rough enough to be used for smoothing and polishing wood. They can also be used as a skin sloughing agent. The bark, stripped off in long lengths, is used for making rope and string, and split twigs are used for plaiting baskets.
Although it lives in damp soil, it does well in a sunny position in the normal soil conditions of a garden. I like using the plant around large ponds of wetland gardens, where its branches that overhang open water provide perches for fish-eating birds like kingfishers and cormorants.
The scrambling shrub is evergreen but will shed its old leaves each season for a week or so in Spring before the new flush of growth bursts forth. They are frost-sensitive and therefore only suitable for the frost-free parts of our province.

 

 


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