Genus Ficus - Chinese Banyan Tree (Ficus microcarpa)
Genus Ficus - Chinese Banyan Tree (Ficus microcarpa)

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

The genus Ficus – fig trees – represents a totally unique plant section. And this owes both to the botanical as well as to the biological and ecological characteristics of most of its species.

In the following article we will attempt to give, in the well-known long-lasting brief way of the editorial team of ‘Kalliergeia’, a representing picture of the essential elements that define the genus.

And of course, there will be an effort to bring out the extraordinary entertaining strangler-istics aspects of some of its species.

All species of the genus Ficus L. form a particular kind of fruit, the syconium , which is botanically characterized as a false fruit, since the true, real fruits, the achenes, are contained within it.

Ficus luschnathiana Mature Syconiums
Ficus luschnathiana Mature Syconiums

'The Great Banyan' Tree

Genus Ficus - The Famous Great Banyan Tree in India (Ficus bengalensis)
Genus Ficus - The Famous Great Banyan Tree in India (Ficus bengalensis)

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - General Elements

Genus Ficus is one of the most numerous taxonomic units of the plant world. But beyond what actually counts more than 750 species is distinguished and stands out for two other reasons:

  1. For its unique inflorescence resembling an urn shaped structure commonly called a syconium
  2. For its almost absolute symbiotic relationship with the wasps of the family Agaonidae, which pollinate exclusively its species

However, these will be discussed below. At present it will be said that the species included in the genus Ficus are found mainly in the tropical regions of the planet and few in the subtropical. Of these, the maximum diversity, more than 500 species exhibits in Asian-Australian region – specifically in the Asiatic mainland about 170, New Guinea 132 and Borneo Island 129.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Morphology

The genus Ficus falling within evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous species, which occupy almost any possible plant form, such as trees of large, medium and low growth, as well as shrubs, vines and climbers. On the other hand, several species are epiphytes and other hemiepiphytes, while some are rheophytes and some other purely lithophytes.

Amongst their undoubtedly distinct place possess the ‘stranglers‘ species. This is the case of Ficus bengalensis – the rather accidentally national tree of India. Being hemiepiphyte, it initially grows on the branches of other trees from seed that have deposited frugivorous birds. From there it develops blastogenic roots that penetrate the soil. The aerial part of these roots becomes trunkish while at the same time continuing to develop blastogenic roots.

The whole process results in – literally – strangling the trees on which it is based.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - ‘The Great Banyan’

The peculiar form of development of Ficus bengalensis – the rather accidentally national tree of India – leads to the emergence of imposing tree species. Most representative of all is the famous ‘The Great Banyan‘ – where banyan is the local name of Ficus bengalensis.

‘The Great Banyan’ occupies a surface of no more than 18,918 square metres (1.89 hectares), the highest branch rises to 24.5 m (80 ft) and counts only 3772 aerial roots so far, making extremely proud for its performance, the tree that was strangled by it.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Botanical Description

Sap

All plant parts of species belonging to the genus Ficus contain white to yellowish milky latex, rarely aqueous.

Leaves

The leaves of the plants are simple, entire or lobate. They are predominantly arranged alternately and rarely are opposite, subopposite or subwhorledor. Their petiole is short or elongate while the stipules are amplexicaul or lateral, rounded or elongate.

Flowers

Flowers are found on the same or different plants (monoecious or dioecious), and they produced in the interior of an axillary inflorescence which forms the syconium. The calyx is small and membranaceous while the corolla is absent.

The male flowers have a perianth consisting of 2 to 6 segments and bearing 1 to 3 stamens, the female flowers have a perianth consisting of 2 to 7 segments and bearing 1 to 2 stigmas.

Fruit

In the interior of syconium plethora of ‘real fruits’, the achenes, are produced.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Mutualism

Taking into account that the genus Ficus is estimated to be 60 to 100 million years old and that all these years are reproduced solely thanks to the Fig wasps of the Agaonidae family, it can be said with great precision that this relationship really lasted in time.

But as with all the long-term relationships, so too is not one-sided. And it is not because thanks to and exclusively to the genus Ficus the Fig wasps of the Agaonidae family can also be reproduced.

In other words, the survival of the Ficus also depends on the survival of the Fig wasps – and vice versa.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Ficus macrophylla Fruit and the Wasps (Pleistodontes froggatti)
Genus Ficus - Ficus macrophylla Fruit and the Wasps (Pleistodontes froggatti)

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Pollination

Almost for every species of Ficus corresponds a species of Fig wasp that pollinates it and the few exceptions simply confirm the rule. The pollination is carried out by female wasps that have wings – unlike males that are wingless and can not leave the syconium.

And although the life cycle of females ends on average within 24 to 48 hours, they can pollinate Ficus, whose trees may be as close as hundred kilometers to each other, as recorded for an African Fig wasp.

Females detect the appropriate syconiums due to the emission of volatile substances. As soon as the pollinator wasps detect them, inspect the syconium followed by entry into the syconium from the ostiole – a small opening of the top. There they do the pollination, depositing the pollen that they bear on the pistil’s stigmas. Then they oviposit and complete their biological cycle.

The process as described above concerns more than 50% of species belonging to the genus Ficus and are monoecious. For dioecious species, there is a slight variation, since female Fig wasps oviposit on the trees that have male flowers, whose syconiums are suitable for that. However, they pollinate also the ‘female’ syconiums, as they can not distinguish males from the female figs due to a similar morphology and identical emission of volatile signals.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Ecology

The species belonging to the genus Ficus contribute in many ways to the ecological balance, biodiversity and conservation of tropical forests. Their full presentation will be the exclusive subject of a future tribute (… pigs might fly). Here we will only briefly mention some of them.

Sufficient Food Supply

As a kind of symbiotic relationship to Fig wasp-pollinators and their ability to offer many generations within the year, Fig fruits production is continuous. This has the effect of providing adequate food for mammals and birds in tropical forests. Food sufficiency leads to the maintenance of high populations.

Forest Restoration

Related researches has shown that the contribution, in particular of the large growth of Ficus trees, is more effective forest restoration agents than other remnant trees of tropical rainforests, that they have undergone significant degradation.

Antierosion Agent

The strong and broad root system of the majority of Ficus species contributes significantly to the stabilization of the lands of the riparian tropical forests and their protection against erosion is also decisive.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Aerial Prop Roots of Banyan Tree
Aerial Prop Roots of Banyan Tree
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Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Uses

Many species of Ficus were used in various ways by traditional societies to meet various needs. Two of them, the Common Fig Tree (Ficus carica L.) and the Sycamore Tree (Ficus sycomorus L.), have been companions of man since its inception in its long journey towards civilization, being among the first cultivated plants since early Neolithic times for their fruits.

And modern societies, too, have not benefited or benefited less from the elite members of the genus, as they are exploited for economic, nutritional, and medical purposes.

Ethnobotany

In many areas of China, the ethnobotany use of Ficus species covers nutritional, therapeutic and practical needs. Edible species of Ficus include Ficus auriculata (edible young leaves and female fruit), F. callosa (edible young leaf) and F. oligodon (edible mature female fruit), while Ficus semicordata is used both as edible fruit, but also for its roots, which are used to treat bladder diseases.

Similar use is made in India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and Nepal.

In Southeast Asia, Australia and Papua New Guinea, they use plant parts of Ficus septica as antifungals, laxatives and as antidotes.

In tropical Asia, the fibers from the bark of Ficus benghalensis are used for the production of ropes and paper, the latex serves as birdlime, while the traditional therapeutic use of all its plant parts is innumerable.

Among the many therapeutic uses of F. benghalensis it is mentioned that it is used as an styptic, haemostatic, anti-bronchial, anti-asthmatic, expectorant and tonic.

Finally (there is no finally but let us say …) Ficus benjamina, the very popular ornamental plant, is used from Nepal to the tropical areas of Australia to receive latex, while its leaves and bark are harvested in various forms to relieve pain from arthritis and rheumatism.

Pharmaceuticals

Ficus glomerata leaf extracts have analgesic properties as well as those of the Ficus bengalensis bark. Extracts from all plant parts of Ficus deltoidea have shown efficacy in the treatment of ulcer.

For the treatment of diabetes, bark extracts of Ficus bengalensis have shown remarkable action. Anti-fungal activity have the methanolic extracts of Ficus carica (Common Fig) and Ficus exasperate.

Significant antibacterial activity has been shown fruit extracts of Ficus sycomorus, F. benjamina, F. bengalensis and F. religiosa. The ethanolic extract of the Ficus religiosa bark has a significant anti-asthmatic effect.

Ornamental

Many species of Ficus are used in interior decoration, while in areas where climatic conditions allow it, they are used both in gardening and in landscape architecture.

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus - Raw Rubber Collected from Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
Genus Ficus - Raw Rubber Collected from Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Classification

As with all plant species, the genus Ficus is also honored by systematic botany with its classification. Below is given, let us say, a taxonomic scheme with the wish that the upcoming phylogenetic researches allow it to be maintained at least until next week.

  • CLASSIFICATION

Domain: Eukaryota (Eukaryotes)

Kingdom: Plantae (Plants)

Subkingdom: Viridaeplantae (Green Plants)

Phylum: Tracheophyta (Vascular Plants)

Subphylum: Euphyllophytina

Class: Mangoliopsida (Dicotyledons)

Order: Rosales

Family: Moraceae (Fig Family)

Genus: Ficus L. (Fig Trees)

  • Subgenus: Ficus

1.1. Section: Ficus

  • Subsection: Ficus
  • Subsection: Frutescentiae

1.2. Section: Eriosycea

  • Subsection: Auratae
  • Subsection: Eriosycea
  • Subgenus: Synoecia

2.1. Section: Rhizocladus

  • Subsection: Plagiostigma
  • Subsection: Pogonotrophe
  • Subsection: Punctulifoliae
  • Subsection: Trichocarpeae

2.2. Section: Kissosycea

  • Subgenus: Sycidium

3.1. Section: Sycidium

3.2. Section: Palaeomorphe

  • Subgenus: Sycomorus

4.1. Section: Sycomorus

  • Subsection: Sycomorus
  • Subsection: Neomorphe

4.2. Section: Hemicardia

4.3. Section: Adenosperma

4.4. Section: Bosscheria

4.5. Section: Dammaropsis

4.6. Section: Papuasyce

4.7. Section: Sycocarpus

  • Subsection: Macrostyla
  • Subsection: Sycocarpus
  • Subgenus: Pharmacosycea

5.1. Section: Pharmacosycea

  • Subsection: Bergianae
  • Subsection: Petenenses

5.2. Section: Oreosycea

  • Subsection: Glandulosae
  • Subsection: Pedunculatae
  • Subgenus: Urostigma

6.1. Section: Americana

6.2. Section: Urostigma

  • Subsection: Conosycea
  • Subsection: Urostigma

6.3. Section: Malvanthera

  • Subsection: Malvantherae
  • Subsection: Hesperidiiformes
    • Series: Glandiferae
    • Series: Hesperidiiformes
    • Series: Xylosyciae
  • Subsection: Platypodeae
    • Series: Crassipes
    • Series: Eubracteatae
    • Series: Obliquae
    • Series: Rubiginosae

Section: Galoglychia

  • Subsection: Galoglychia
  • Subsection: Platyphyllae
  • Subsection: Chlamydodorae
  • Subsection: Crassicostae
  • Subsection: Cyathistipulae
  • Subsection: Caulocarpae

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.): Classification, Description and Uses

Genus Ficus - Ficus aurea Tree in Countryside, Panama
Genus Ficus - Ficus aurea Tree in Countryside, Panama

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - Species

Among the species of the genus Ficus of particular interest are the following:

  • Ficus altissima Blume
  • Ficus aspera Forst. f.
  • Ficus aurea Nutt.
  • Ficus auriculata Lour.
  • Ficus benghalensis L.
  • Ficus benjamina L.
  • Ficus carica L.
  • Ficus citrifolia Mill.
  • Ficus cotinifolia Kunth
  • Ficus deltoidea Jack
  • Ficus drupacea Thunb.
  • Ficus elastica ex Hornem.
  • Ficus glomerata L. 
  • Ficus godeffroyi Warb.
  • Ficus lyrata Warb.
  • Ficus lutea Vahl
  • Ficus maclellandii King
  • Ficus macrophylla ex Pers.
  • Ficus microcarpa L.
  • Ficus obliqua Forst.
  • Ficus obtusifolia Kunth
  • Ficus pantoniana King
  • Ficus petiolaris Kunth
  • Ficus prolixa Forst.
  • Ficus pumila L.
  • Ficus racemosa L.
  • Ficus religiosa L.
  • Ficus rubiginosa ex Vent.
  • Ficus subulata Blume
  • Ficus spiralis Corner
  • Ficus sycomorus L.
  • Ficus villosa Blume
  • Ficus virens Aiton
  • Ficus watkinsiana M.Bailey

Genus Ficus (Ficus L.) - References

The References for the genus Ficus are presented by the Heroic band The Stranglers with their song No More Heroes.

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  1. Bajaj, Y. (2010). Trees III.Berlin: Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH & Co.
  2. Cottee-Jones, H., Bajpa, O., Chaudhar, L., & Whittaker, R. (2016). The Importance of Ficus (Moraceae) Trees for Tropical Forest Restoration. Biotropica, 48(3), 413-419.
  3. Dhungana, P., Devi, P., & Borthakur, S. (2013). Pharmaceutical properties of Indian species of Ficus Linn. J. of Pharm. & Life Sci. (IJPLS), 4(1), 2314-2319.
  4. Γκανιάτσας, Κ. (1982). Συστηματική Βοτανική – Μέρος Β [Systematic Botany – Part B].Θεσσαλονίκη.
  5. Μπαμπαλώνας, Δ., & Κοκκίνη, Σ. (2004). Συστηματική Βοτανική: Φυλογενετική – Φαινετική Προσέγγιση της Ταξινόμησης των Φυτικών Οργανισμών [Systematic Botany: Phylogenetics]. Θεσσαλονίκη: Αϊβάζη.

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