Ficus ingens: Red-leaved fig

Family: Moraceae
Common name: Red-leaved fig, Red-leaved rock fig

Red-leaved figs are small trees reaching a height of 10-18 meters growing on rocky terrains, hillsides, and in dense forests. Young leaves are bright red in color giving the tree its name, but they turn dark green when they mature.

Crown can reach a diameter of over 30 meters with a well-branched trunk. The trunk can be straight or twisted, ribbed, grey with a yellowish tinge. Scars from fallen leaves are visible on younger branches.

Red-leaved figs are also called stone-splitters because their intricate root systems can grow through small cracks and crevices on mountainsides, eventually splitting huge rocks over a long period of time.

Leaves are simple and alternate, about 16 cms long and come in a variety of colors like pink, red, copper, and green depending on the age of the leaf, as well as the season. Leaf margins are smooth, tips are blunt and rounded.

Red-leaved fig flowers are small and almost completely closed, making pollination very difficult. There are certain species of wasps that can bore through tiny openings and pollinate the flowers inside.

Female wasps lay eggs inside the fig, and once the babies emerge, male wasps bore holes in the figs and go out. This unique symbiotic relationship between the fig and the wasps ensures that figs are pollinated.

Once the flowers are pollinated, the fruit that contains the flowers inside, ripens first into a white color, they yellow, and finally deep red. Red-leaved fig fruits are 5-8 cms in diameter and grow in large bunches, each bunch containing fruits of different colors and maturity. These fruits are edible and preferred by birds and small animals. Humans usually use it as famine food, but leaves of this tree are toxic to humans and animals alike.

Red-leaved fig trees are very sturdy and low-maintenance, producing fruits in abundance year after year, especially in tropical countries. But they are not ideal for small gardens or to be grown near homes since their root systems can penetrate basement walls, swimming pools, foundations, drainage, and sewage systems.

They prefer rocky terrain, or lowlands with well-drained soil and abundant sunlight. They are mostly grown as ornamental or shade trees, and not for their fruits.

Propagation is through seeds or stem cuttings.