While in Kakadu a couple of years ago, I came across several hairy leafed plants that at the time I couldn’t identify. I wasn’t too worried, took some photo’s assuming they were a species I hadn’t come across yet.
At the time I hadn’t seen Ficus platypoda or Ficus cerasicarpa in the wild. Both species grow near by and have hairy leaves. I had seen herbarium collections but it’s really hard to know what you are looking at when the plant is dried.
Platypoda grows to west of Kakadu, they are apparently endemic to Western Australia and I have since seen them growing around Kununurra. They have large, rounded leaves with a thick covering of grey hair. The fruit grow to about 3cm and are nearly covered by large persistent bracts. They are nothing like these plants in Kakadu.
Cerasicarpa grows to the South East, around Mount Isla in Queensland. I believe there have been cerasicarpa collected through tropical Northern Territory and they may be the same plant I came across. Having since seen cerasicarpa in the wild, the plants I saw were not the same.
There was one more possibility. I have read that Ficus brachypoda has hairy leaf forms so these Kakadu plants might be one of these. To me these plants were definitely not Ficus brachypoda. Ficus brachypoda is described as being hairless and becoming more hairy as it’s range becomes more arid. From what I’ve seen this doesn’t seem to be the case.
The brachypoda from Central Australia, possibly the most arid area that figs grow in Australia, are hairless. The brachypoda that are hairy seem to grow in tropical regions.
After looking through Canberra’s herbarium collection of hairy leaf brachypoda, I decided they were mis-identified. Some of these plants looked a lot like the plants I saw in Kakadu.
To me this was the last bit of evidence I needed to decide these plants didn’t fall into any of the currently named species and the plant is possibly worthy of being a new species.
I’m not sure that there’s enough population consistency to be able to say that these trees are a new spieces. From the small amount of trees I’ve seen growing through tropical Northern Territory and Western Australia it seems there’s a lot of ‘individual’ trees with intermediate features.