The Botany of Fig Trees

Figs belong to the genus Ficus and the family Moraceae. Their flowers grow inside a structure called a syconium. Fig wasps pollinate them.

A Common Fig syconium (fruit) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Family Moraceae

     Figs belong to the plant family Moraceae. This is the family to which the mulberry belongs. In fact, mulberries belong to the genus Morus, the type genus of the family. For this reason, Moraceae is commonly called the mulberry family.

     The breadfruit or jackfruit also belongs to the family Moraceae. I have never seen it in the United States, but I have eaten it in both Guatemala and the Philippines.

     The Osage orange is not related to orange and lemon trees. It is another member of the family Moraceae. A row of Osage orange trees have often been used in landscaping as a hedge.

      According to Wikipedia, the family contains a total of approximately 40 genera and over 1,000 species.

The Genus Ficus

     Figs belong to the genus Ficus. The figs that you buy in the store probably come from Ficus carica. The pipal or bo tree is called Ficus religiosa because of its associations with Buddhism.

     Another excellent Indian plant is Ficus benghalensis, commonly called the banyan tree. Unless you are immersed in Oriental philosophy or unless you have personally seen the banyan and the bo tree, it is easy to confuse the two. Buddha may have sat under a banyan tree at one time or another, but his ideas came to him while he was sitting under the bo tree.

     Once you see an older banyan tree, you won’t confuse it with anything else. It has a large number of trunks that look like slender brown columns. It spreads over a large area.

     The banyan is one of the so-called strangler figs. There are others, such as Ficus aurea, the Florida strangler fig. These sinister plants start their lives as epiphytes. A seed lands on a host tree, germinates, and sends aerial roots downward toward the ground. As long as these roots dangle in the air, they do no harm to the host tree. However, when the aerial roots enter the ground, the portions of the roots still above ground grow larger and eventually strangle the host tree.

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