Ficus septica with Sandpaper leaves?
On two occasions I’ve come across Ficus septica plants that have had sandpaper leaves! Both were growing in Bamaga Scrub in Cape york. One in the rain forest as a sucker of a tall growing tree and the other, well it was a strange plant.
The second plant was growing beside the road, in the open, in a moist drainage channel. At first glance it appeared to be a Ficus opposita. It was low growing with course open branches and sparse foliage. On a closer look it had the rough sandpaper leaves of opposita but they looked just like those of a Ficus septica?
Septica isn’t known for having sandpaper leaves! They tend to be glossy bright green, hairless, thin to touch with a hint of yellow to their colouring. It’s a wide ranging plant that grows through most of North East Queensland into NT and through the chain of islands north of Australia to India.
The first time I came across a reference to Ficus septic hybridising was in the paper ‘Genetic evidence for natural hybridization between species of dioecious Ficus on island populations’ – Parrish, T.L.; Koelewijn, H.P.; Dijk, P.J.; Kruijt, M. This paper noted that septic can cross with hispida.
While in the Daintree I came across plants that seemed to be just that (septica x hispida). Septica ‘normally’ grows fruit on the tips of it’s branches. The fruit are ‘normally’ green and look pretty much the same when ripe as unripe. In the Daintree I came across several examples of septica growing fruit off their trunks (cauliflory) and even off their roots. The above paper mentioned that the septica plants they’d found with cauliflourous fruit had been the result of septica crossing with hispida.
One septic I saw in the Daintree had white cauliforous fruit, covered in dense brown hair, a pretty strange combination. Septica ‘normally’ has green hairless fruit forming at the tips of it’s branches, yet hispida forms strong cauliflorous branches and is commonly known as the ‘hairy fig’. Seems a pretty good chance that this plant was a septic x hispida. Hispida also gets rough sandpaper like leaves and is probably more closely related to the common sandpaper figs than septica.
Anyway back to the sandpaper septica of Cape York. The smaller of the two trees appeared to be a cross with Ficus opposita. It’s appearance was very much like opposita and this plant was growing right next to a group of ‘normal’ opposita and not far from other ‘real’ septica. These two species crossing is something I wouldn’t have thought possible. Septica and opposita appear to be distantly related and with the current Australian Fig experts saying ‘Figs don’t cross’, this combination seemed very unlikely. Yet here it was a Ficus opposita that had Ficus septic foliage? (This plant was handed in to RGB if you’d like to see it).
One last cutting of this plant is struggling to stay alive at my home. Hopefully this plant will survive and be useful for research into this topic!
The other Cape York example was a suckering shoot growing from the roots of a tall septica. Possibly the tallest I’ve seen. These trees grew to the top of the canopy, maybe 30m up. Most septica from my experience only grow to 4 or 5 m. Their leaves were up to 30cm long, not typical for septica yet common for hispida. They also formed cauliflorous fruiting branches and grew side by side with Ficus hispida, suggesting to me that these plants were septic x hispida. The new leaves on this septica sucker were also coarse, like those of hispida and becoming more glossy as the foliage matured.