Ficus auriculata: Elephant ear fig

Family: Moraceae
Common name: Elephant ear fig, Elephant ear fig tree, Elephant ear tree, Giant Indian fig, Roxburgh fig, Ficus macrophylla, Ficus oligodon, Ficus roxburghii

A fruiting Elephant ear fig tree is one of the most beautiful sights you can have in your garden, with bunches of green and red figs covering the trunk all the way to the root. Elephant ear fig trees can grow to a height of 10-12 meters, with a heavily branched, beautifully rounded crown.

The trunk is about 20-30 cms in diameter, and brown, with numerous stalks where the fruits emerge from the trunk. Leaves are large like elephant ears, roughly heart-shaped, and green, giving the plant its name. Young leaves are copper brown, later turning light green and then dark green on maturity.

Elephant ear fig trees produce 3 types of flowers, male flowers, long-styled female flowers, and short-styled female flowers contained inside the fruit. Fig trees usually have a specific species of wasp pollinating them. In this case, the female wasps carrying pollen enter the fig and lay eggs there.

The emerging male wasps fertilize the female wasps and bore tunnels for both of them to go out of the fruit. The female wasps carry the pollen when they emerge, going into another fig fruit to lay eggs.

The symbiotic relationship between these specific species of wasp and the Elephant ear fig trees is a delicate balance, each extremely necessary for the existence and reproduction of the other. The fruits are 2-4 cms in diameter, light green, and covered with tiny hairs.

These fig trees need good sunlight and rainfall, to promote flowering and fruiting. They cannot withstand cold temperatures, as this might lead to leaf dropping and the eventual death of the tree.

In warm tropical countries, Elephant ear fig trees thrive well producing over 500 fruits in season, covering the trunk and reaching all the way to the base of the tree, so much so that the fruits lie on the ground around the tree, still attached to the trunk.

These fig fruits are edible, juicy and sweet, and are used to make jams, preserves, juices, sweets and savory dishes. Unripe fruits can be used in salads and pickles. Roasted fruits can be used in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery.

Latex from the trunk is used in the treatment of cuts and wounds. The large leaves are used as plates, and to wrap food materials. The tree gives abundant shade and can be used as a canopy tree at picnic areas and parks.

Propagation is through seeds.