by Piter Kehoma Boll
With today’s post, I intend to start a series of three Friday Fellows that are connected. After all, that’s what life is, right? Organisms interacting.
So to start, let’s talk about a magnificent tree today, the fig tree Ficus microcarpa, commonly known as Chinese banyan, Malayan banyan, Indian laurel, curtain fig, gajumaru and many other names. Its native range goes from China to Australia, including all the southeastern Asia and several Pacific islands in the way. However, it can be found in many other countries today as it has become a somewhat popular ornamental plant.
In its natural tropical habitat, the Chinese banyan reach a height of 30 meter or more, with a crown spreading across more than 70 meters and a trunk more than 8 m in thickness. Most trees are smaller, though, and they never reach such an astonishing size in temperate climates. Its bark has a light gray color and its leaves are smooth, entire, oblanceolate, and about 5 to 6 cm long. Its figs are considerably small, hence the name microcarpa (small-fruited). It is common for large specimens to produce aerial roots, which grow from the branches and touch the soil, forming an intricate and beautiful system.
As typical among fig trees, the Chinese banyan is pollinated by a fig wasp, in this case the species Eupristina verticillata. Outside of its native range, the tree can only produce viable seeds in the presence of the wasp, so the insect must be introduced along with it. Its fruits are very attractive to birds, who spread its seeds in their feces. After passing through a bird’s gut and reaching the outer environment again, the seeds attract ants, which spread them even further. Being quite versatile regarding the substrate to germinate, the Chinese banyan can grow on a lot of surfaces, often sprouting through crevices on walls and sidewalks and breaking them as it grows.
The Chinese banyan is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of conditions, including pain, fever, flu, malaria, bronchitis and rheumatism. Laboratory studies have isolated anti-cancer, antioxidant and antibacterial compounds from the bark, leaves, aerial roots and fruits, as well as anti-fungal compounds from its latex. The tree has, therefore, the potential to be used for the development of many medicines.
Due to its impressive size and the intricate labyrinth formed by its network of aerial roots, the Chinese banyan tree has an important role to many religious groups in its native range, being often considered the house of spirits, either good or bad ones and its presence usually marks places of worship. Regardless of these beliefs, though, this magnificent tree deserves the admiration that it gets.
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Ao C, Li A, Elzaawely AA, Xuan TD, Tawata S (2008) Evaluation of antioxidant and antibacterial activities of Ficus microcarpa L. fil. extract. Food Control 19(10): 940–948. doi: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2007.09.007
Chiang YM, Chang JY, Kuo CC, Chang CY, Kuo YH (2005) Cytotoxic triterpenes from the aerial roots of Ficus microcarpa. Phytochemistry 66(4): 495–501. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2004.12.026
Kaufmann S, McKey DB, Hossaert-McKey M, Horvitz CC (1991) Adaptations for a two-phase seed dispersal system involving vertebrates and ants in a hemiepiphytic fig (Ficus microcarpa: Moraceae). American Journal of Botany 78(7): 971–977. doi: 10.1002/j.1537-2197.1991.tb14501.
Taira T, Ohdomari A, Nakama N, Shimoji M, Ishihara M (2005) Characterization and Antifungal Activity of Gazyumaru (Ficus microcarpa) Latex Chitinases: Both the Chitin-Binding and the Antifungal Activities of Class I Chitinase Are Reinforced with Increasing Ionic Strength. Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry 69(4): 811–819. doi: 10.1271/bbb.69.811
Wikipedia. Ficus microcarpa. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_microcarpa >. Access on June 8, 2019.
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* This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.