Ficus opposita x leptoclada

Ficus opposita is a sandpaper fig that grows across Northern Queensland, from Cape York to South Eastern Queensland and inland towards Northern Territory where it is replaced by Ficus aculeata.

Even though it is currently thought that opposita and aculeata are distinct and sexually isolated, I believe they are variations of the same plant and are freely hybridising in areas where they co habit.

I also wonder if there are such ‘hybrid’ zones where these two species meet in the wild, it seems more likely that the populations would slowly blend between one form to the next. Traveling from the East coast of Queensland inland, I feel that Ficus opposita would gradually change to become more and more like aculeata. I’d love to get my hands on all the collections of sandpaper fig from Queensland and check if my theory is right.

What I do know from my travels is that Ficus opposita is incredible variable. In Cape York the average opposita I observed was 3 or 4 m tall and about the same wide. They tend to have large round leaves, around 15cm long, with a stiff course texture. The bark is course and deeply fissured, grey or brown in colour.

Further south the average leaf is more narrow, some plants grow as small shrubs others as trees to 8 or so meters. Some have leaves with short stiff spines while others are covered in soft grey hair. Even within one region there doesn’t seem to be any consistency to the populations. This large variation of form is one reason I refuse to believe that the different sandpaper fig species are sexually isolated. My understanding is that plants with in a sexually isolated species would assimilate and take on a common appearance between individuals, as time went on variation would be reduced, this is far from the case when you observe opposita in the wild.

I have about 15 Ficus opposita, from various locations around Queensland. Though they all look similar, they are also quite different to each other. One plant looks like Ficus coronata, with leaves of similar shape and colour to it’s southern relative. Another has extremely long thin trifoliate leaves that are not uncommon on young or damaged Ficus opposita but rarely seen – as this plant – on adults. I’d suggest that you if you looked hard enough you would probably find a Ficus opposita that displays similarities to each of the other species of sandpaper fig around Australia, making me wonder if Ficus opposita is the original Australian sandpaper fig?

My current feeling is that Ficus opposita may have spread south from Indonesia into North East Queensland. Ficus melinocarpa, copiosa and congesta are thought to have done the same.

It may then have spread from Northeast Queensland west to become Ficus aculeata, coronulata, scobina and podocarpifolia, south west to become leptoclada, possibly mixing with congesta to form the east coast forms of fraseri and coronata.

If this is the case, it would be easy to believe that nearly all the native sandpaper figs are able to interbred, after all they may be nothing more than localised variations of the same species! One of my opposita forms ripe fruit every year without fail. I would assume that most of the pollen is provide by Ficus coronata because they are the next plants on the shelf. Because there is so much ripe fruit from Ficus opposita I won’t bother growing the seed but I will sometimes squash a fruit and leave it at the base of the plant to let the seed germinate. One example of this produced a surprising cross!

 

Ficus opposita x leptoclada
Ficus opposita x leptoclada, 1 Ficus opposita Female Parent, 2. Ficus leptoclada Male Parent, 3 Ficus opposita x leptoclada

 

On the other side of the shelf are a row of leptoclada, and it seemed that one of these leptoclada had pollinated an opposita. The seedling that popped up had large leaves similar in size to opposita and oppositely arranged on the stem, again like opposita. Yet the foliage was thin, smooth and dark green like leptoclada. After a couple of years the plant formed it’s first fruit and it looked just like the fruit of a leptoclada.

 

Ficus opposita x leptoclada displaying opposite foliage
Ficus opposita x leptoclada displaying opposite foliage

 

 

Ficus opposita Female Parent
Ficus opposita Female Parent

 

Ficus leptoclada Male Parent
Ficus leptoclada Male Parent

 

Ficus opposita x leptoclada
Ficus opposita x leptoclada

 

 

Ficus opposita x leptoclada fruit
Ficus opposita x leptoclada fruit

 

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4 Replies to “Ficus opposita x leptoclada”

  1. Hi Brendan,

    I’m looking to grow a native fig that produces good eating fruit. Which fig’s would you recommend? I live in Sydney. I liked the sound of Ficus opposita would this work? D o I need more than one to produce fruit? I have a bunch of exotic Ficus carica fig’s but that is my only experience. Also where would be the best place to obtain a cutting?

  2. Hi Tim,

    There’s a lot of variation in fig size, taste etc within the different species figs. Ficus opposita fruit are one of the best but that doesn’t mean every tree from that species will produce great fruit. You will also need a male and female tree for the figs to ripen. F. coronata, is also worth a try. Ficus brachypoda from Central Australia is another plant with nice fruit and you won’t need two trees. You can try Greening Australia, they sometimes have seedlings of these species.

  3. I assume that the sandpaper fig complex requires fig wasps in order to achieve successful pollination, so the obvious question is – do these fig species share the sampe species of wasp pollinator, or are there multiple wasp species identified?

    And if wasp species are truly ‘restricted’ to their respective fig species, does this not imply that Ficus opposita and F. leptoclada at least are subspecies at best…?

  4. You bring up a couple of big questions 🙂

    What is a species, what’s a sub species?

    And what’s with 1 wasp species to 1 fig species.

    Ficus opposita (pollinator Kradibia nigricorpus) as it is currently known is obviously different to F. leptoclada (pollinator ?) but they are closely related and share a recent ancestor allowing them to interbreed. Mind you they probably don’t make contact in the wild with one being a woodlands shrub and the other a rainforest tree so natural hybrids would be hard to come across.

    As for 1 to 1, it has been reported to happen and… to not happen, there are studies that show one fig species distributed over many countries is pollinated by the one wasp species and other studies that show another fig species will be pollinated by a few pollinators.

    It makes sense to me that as a fig species becomes isolated or migrates into a new area that it’s pollinator probably does too, over time it could end in both becoming new species. It’s not hard to imagine the process, there was a lot of research done on the subject in the 90’s and early 2000’s if you feel like a read.

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