Sandy Ménage á trois! Hybrid Sandpaper Figs!


Hybrid Sandpaper Figs.

Ficus leptoclada is a sandpaper fig that grows around Atherton in Queensland. A slender rainforest tree with a long trunk of dark brown bark and a seasonal covering of colourful fruit. The fruit ripens orange/red, is dry and not very edible.

In contrast Ficus opposita and Ficus coronata are commonly (but not exclusively) short wide shrubs with larger rough leaves, raised leaf veins and most of fruit appearing on the tips of their sparse open branches. Both species have a wide range of habitats, mainly open woodland or near water and in the case of coronata, also rainforest. The fruit of opposita is up to 3 cm across, very fleshy, moist and tasty. Coronata’s fruit is normally green/purple, smaller and dry with nearly no flesh.

All three species appear vastly different in form and once you know the differences, it’s easy to identify them – except if you happen across a hybrid zone!

I’ve collected various forms of these plants from the wild and have them growing in my garden. All have set ripe fruit over the years. This isn’t unusual for Ficus coronata, which grows wild near Sydney, but opposita and leptoclada naturally occur in Queensland and shouldn’t get pollinated in Sydney.

I now have seedlings that look like Ficus coronata but have come from the fruit of opposita and leptoclada, suggesting they have all been pollinated by the wasp of the local Sydney sand paper fig. I also have a seedling that grew from a Ficus opposita fruit that has features of both Ficus opposita and leptoclada.

It would seem the pollinating wasp of Ficus coronata, happily pollinates Ficus opposita and Ficus leptoclada. It also seems that it happily pollinates Ficus fraseri, Ficus scobina and Ficus copiosa as well. Maybe I should have called this “Ménage á six”?

Ficus leptoclad x coronata
Left: Ficus leptoclada, Right: Ficus leptoclada x coronata
Ficus fraseri x coronata
Left: Ficus fraseri, Right: Ficus fraseri x coronata