Ficus microcarpa, also known as Chinese Banyan, Indian Laurel or Curtain Fig is a banyan tree native to India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia and Australia.
It is an evergreen tree with a rounded dense crown that grows to 15 m or more in height. The bark is smooth and grey in colour. It has milky sap and long, thin, dangling aerial roots.
Ficus microcarpa has been widely planted as street trees and in front of schools and government buildings.
Leaves alternate, simple, leathery, deep glossy green, oval-elliptic to diamond-shaped, to about 6 cm long, with short pointed, ridged tips.
Flowers very tiny, unisexual, numerous, hidden within the ‘fig’ or syconium.
The urn-shaped syconium is a fleshy, specialized receptacle that harbours the tiny unisexual flowers.
In Chinese the fig is called wú huā guǒ (無花果), “fruit without flower”. This is not accurate. Figs should be called fruit with hidden flowers (隱花果).
A tiny hole called an ostiole in the tip of the syconium allows minute symbiotic wasps to enter. The wasps pollinate the flowers and lay their eggs within the the flowers. In Ficus mircocarpa, the size of the syconium is small and is about 1 cm in diameter. It is sessile, ie directly attached to at the leaf axils. The colour turns from green to yellow and finally dark pink when ripe.
In late summer (February in Sydney), the syconia mature, detach from the branchlets and fall onto the ground. Footpaths near the trees are covered with crushed syconia and seeds. This makes the footpath colourful and is quite a special scene, some may say chaotic.
Ficus macrophylla (alternative scientific name Ficus macrocarpus) is commonly known as Moreton Bay Fig, Australian Banyan or Fig Wood. It is a tall tree with a huge trunk, growing to about 50 m.
Ficus macrophylla is native to tropical Queensland and northern New South Wales in Australia.
The tree starts life as a seedling growing high on existing trees and slowly strangles them as its roots reach the ground. Ficus macrophylla is often planted as a shade tree in parks and large gardens. The roots spread widely and will damage pipes and paths.
The leaves are simple, ovate-elliptical or oblong-elliptical. The leaf blade, is glossy dark-green above, brownish below, 10-25 cm long with a blunt point at the apex.
The syconia (figs) are orange to purple with creamy white dots, globular, up to 2.5 cm in diameter. Each syconium attaches to the branchlet with a stalk. The syconia ripe over several months of the year.
The figs are eaten by birds and other animals. The Aborigines in Australia consume the sweet fruit as bush food.
The fibres from the wood were used by the Aborigines for making nets.
This species has been widely introduced to many foreign places like California for growing as street trees and landscaping. The drought tolerant banyan trees grow well but do not grow as large as trees in their native habitat.
Ficus microcarpa has also been widely grown as bonsai.
A ‘bonsai’ is a plant, usually a tree or a shrub, grown in a small container and made to look like a miniature of the mature tree through the use of various training techniques. The original word ‘bonsai’ comes from the Chinese word ‘pén zāi’ (盆栽). Sometimes a nice piece of rock is put side by side with the little tree in the container. As a bonsai has great aesthetic value and looks like a small representation of the natural landscape, it is commonly called ‘pén jǐng’ (盆景) .
Fine art of the banyan trees
I would like to thank Mr Andrew Orme of The Royal Botanic Gardens for helping me to identify the trees.
http://www.bonsaiempire.com/tree-species/ficus (CARE GUIDE FOR THE FICUS BONSAI TREE) This webpage gives more information about bonsai.
Li Xiongcai (1981) Li Xiongcai’s Landscape Painting Manual (黎雄才山水畫譜 上篇 樹木) 嶺南美術出版社