Ficus microcarpa: Curtain fig

Family: Moraceae
Common name: Chinese banyan, Curtain fig, Malayan banyan, Indian laurel

Curtain figs can grow as bonsai plants that are a few inches tall, to large trees that are over a 100 feet tall. In gardens, they are grown as ornamental plants that vary in height between 5 to 40 feet tall. They can be pruned severely into desired shapes, and the tender, light-green leaves that grow our after pruning look exceptionally beautiful.

Curtain figs usually grow as epiphytes on other plants, sending down aerial roots which reach the ground and then nourish the plant. These roots then encircle the trunk of the parent tree, essentially killing it while the curtain fig grows and flourishes.

The most famous curtain fig is a heritage-listed tree on Curtain Fig National park in Queensland, Australia. This particular tree grew as an epiphyte on another tree, which slowly tilted because of the weight of the curtain fig tree. It leant against a nearby tree resulting in the curtain fig standing diagonally against the ground. Eventually the parent tree died, and the curtain fig developed roots that enabled it to stand diagonally with a falling curtain of aerial roots supporting it. Read more about the famous curtain fig tree here.

Curtain fig trees prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. But they can stand extreme temperatures and pollution. The flowers are contained within the fig, which later develops into the fruit. Curtain figs usually rely on a specific species for pollination, mostly wasps who pollinate the plants and also lay their eggs in the flowers of curtain fig, a symbiotic relationship.

The fruits are initially green and then turn yellow to red and then purple when they ripen. They contain numerous small seeds, similar to figs. These fruits are preferred by birds, who help in dispersal.

Curtain figs are considered invasive species in some parts of the world, since they can grow in cracks in the walls, masonry, buildings, ledges etc. Its strong roots can crack pavements and sidewalks, and hence they are not good roadside plants.

Curtain figs have some medicinal uses in traditional herbal medicine, the roots and leaves being used to treat fever, malaria, bronchitis and rheumatism. The leaves have antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

Propagation is from stem cuttings, which readily root even in water.

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