COMMON NAME: Cluster fig
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ficus racemosa
Atti (Malayalam, Tamil)
DESCRIPTION: These are often large trees, up to a 100 ft high
Ficus is a genus of around 850 species of trees, shrubs and vines collectively called ‘figs’. They are found natively throughout the tropics, and include some of our most beloved Indian trees such as the peepal (Ficus religiosa) and the banyan (Ficus benghalensis). It also includes the fig fruit that humans love to eat—Ficus carica, native to the Middle East and Western Asia. In your book, you can see the cluster fig tree (Ficus racemosa), whose most distinctive feature is that its fruit grow profusely in clusters directly from the tree’s trunk.
Fig trees form a very important part of many jungle ecosystems because they fruit multiple times a year, which means that some kind of fig fruit should be available all year round—even in seasons when most other trees aren’t in fruit. So many birds, bats and primates rely on fig fruit for their sustenance that they are known as a ‘keystone’ resource in the jungle. Like the keystone of a bridge, if figs disappeared, everything else could come crashing down!
Figs are also fascinating for their complex pollination strategy. Interestingly, fig flowers are located inside the fig fruit, known as a ‘syconium’. In order to access these flowers, the pollinator has to enter the fruit through a tiny hole called an ‘ostiole’. Figs have therefore evolved a special relationship with fig wasps: the mother wasp lays her eggs safely among the fig flowers inside the syconium. When the baby wasps are born, the males dig little escape tunnels in the fruit wall for the females. The males then die and dissolve within the fruit! Meanwhile, the female wasps, carrying the fig’s pollen with them, fly off to other syconia in search of a place to lay their eggs—thereby completing the pollination cycle. This relationship began more than 80 million years ago, and now nearly every species of fig has its own partner wasp species! In fact, the reason Ficus species produce fruit all year round is to ensure its pollinator wasps survive.
(Below) In the cross-section of these Mysore figs (Ficus drupacea), you can see the flowers closely packed on the inside.
(Below) Take a look at these other common Ficus fruit, and try and spot them in your neighbourhood. (Below left) The Mysore fig (Ficus drupaceae) is yellow when ripe. (Below right) Fruit of the banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis).
© All images on this page are the work and property of Prasanjeet Yadav