The genus Ficus includes: Banyan Tree, Curtain Fig, Hill Fig, Rock Fig and Strangler Fig.

The genus Ficus, also known as Figs, is a member of the diverse Mulberry family (Moraceae), and is one of the largest genera of woody flowering plants with over 1,000 different species. It is rivalled in size by only a number of other genera of trees and shrubs, such as Acacia (over 900), Eucalyptus (over 700), and Cassia (over 600).

In Australia, the genus Ficus are found on both the northern and eastern sides of Australia. As ‘epiphytes’ (a plant growing on another for support), Ficus are primary hemiepiphytes, defined by canopy to floor growth. The seeds are deposited by birds, flying foxes and other wildlife that live in the forest canopy, it is here that they germinate, with the young figs sending roots down to the forest floor, to anchor in the soil. After contact with this new source of nutrients, the growth rate increases quickly. These prop roots thicken, in many cases interlace, join and in the case of the ‘Strangler Fig’ gradually strangle the host tree to death.

Strangler Fig

‘Strangler Fig’ is the common name given to a group of figs that kill the host tree, eventually leaving the fig to stand freely, and often with a hollow centre. The process can take any where from 500 to 1,000 years. ‘Stranglers’ are typically found in subtropical rainforest and lowland rainforest.

Strangler Figs play an essential role in the ecology of the rainforest. They fruit year round, some known to fruit three times a year, and with certain species fruiting at different times, providing food for many forest birds and mammals. Ecologists refer to strangler figs as a ‘keystone species’, meaning it is an ecosystem component that many species rely on for survival.

The name ‘Strangler Fig’ is usually applied to a group of species known under the common name of the ‘Banyan Tree’.

Where can you see Strangler / Curtain Figs?

  • World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, QLD.
  • Broadwater Park, located in the Abergowrie State Forest, QLD.
  • Toonumber National Park, near Kyogle, NSW.
  • Yungaburra, located in the Atherton Tablelands, QLD.
  • Atherton Tablelands just north of the town of Atherton itself.
  • Near Mossman Gorge, QLD.
  • Bunya Mts National Park, QLD.

Banyan Tree (Strangler Figs)

The Banyan (genus Ficus, subgenus Urostigma) is a subgenus of many species of tropical figs that include:

  • Ficus benghalensis
  • Ficus microcarpa
  • Ficus pertusa
  • Ficus citrifolia
  • Ficus aurea
  • Ficus religiosa
  • Ficus macrophylla
  • Ficus rubiginosa

The Banyan is a large tree, whose figs are eaten by birds, flying foxes and other wildlife living in the canopy. The seeds are dropped or passed by the wildlife many of which land in the tree nooks and crevasses. The seeds then germinates, starting its life as an ‘epiphytes’.

The roots then descend down the trunk of the tree seeking the ground below. Once it has rooted into the soil, the fig roots rapidly thicken and lignify (meaning that it turns into wood through the formation and deposit of lignin in the cell walls). Where the fig roots cross each other they fuse, in effect, creating a lattice around the host, enclosing it like a prison.

The fig competes with its host for light, water and nutrients, preventing it from growing, and sealing its fate. The host eventually dies and rots away, providing additional nutrient for the fig. Once the host has rotted away, all that is left is a tubular lattice of lignified roots, instead of a trunk. It is for this reason that banyans are often referred to as ‘strangler figs’.

Curtain Fig

Similar to the Strangler Figs, the Curtain Figs send roots to the forest floor, but in a particularly dramatic type of growth, the host tree falls against another tree, which enable the Curtain Fig to capture that tree with its roots. This can happen several times, creating the ‘curtain’ effect with the roots.

Hill Fig

The most famous avenue of figs in Sydney, are those found in Hyde Park, which is known as the ‘Avenue of Figs’ (Ficus microcarpa var hillii).

In recent times these trees have been removed after they were deemed dangerous, due to infection by disease and fungi Phellinus speciesPhytophthora species and Armillaria species.

Unfortunately, a number of these trees are now in decline. Over recent years, a number of these figs have been removed following investigations which revealed the presence of soil-borne disease causing root rot. Fungi including Phytophthra cinnamomi, Armillaria luteobubalina and Phellinus sp. have been identified in the soil. The trees are currently being monitored and removed as necessary, and a program of block removal and subsequent replacement with the same species has begun.

City of Sydney – Hyde Park

Scientific ClassificationCommon nameWhere found
Ficus benjaminaWeeping Fig
Benjamin’s Fig
Native to south and southeast Asia, south to northern Australia.
Ficus brachypodaRock Fig
Native Fig
Wild Fig
Desert Fig
Australian bush food, native to the arid and semi-arid region of Central Australia. It is a spreading shrub or tree up to 8 m in height with smooth pale grey bark, and found growing on or near rock. Usually a tree of the tropic, this species has adapted to dry conditions and found in gorges and other sheltered areas. The roots of the figs can penetrate half a kilometre into rock crevices in search of moisture.
Ficus caricaCommon FigNative to southwest Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region. Grown in Australia for its edible fruit.
Ficus citrifolia
Strangler Fig
Native to southern Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.
Ficus coronataSandpaper FigAustralian bush food, native to eastern Australia in the subtropical rainforests of New South Wales to the wet tropics of Northern Queensland.
Ficus microcarpaChinese Banyan
Malayan Banyan
Bayan Tree
Strangler Fig
Native from Ceylon to India, southern China, the Malay Archipelago, the Ryūkyū Islands, Australia and New Caledonia.
Ficus macrophyllaMoreton Bay Fig (are also banyan specie)Native of the eastern coast from the Atherton Tableland, Queensland to the Illawarra, New South Wales.
Ficus platypodaDesert FigAustralian bush food, native to the arid and semi-arid region of Central Australia.
Ficus racemosaCluster FigAustralian bush food, native to the monsoonal zone of the Northern Territory, Cape York and Western Australia.
Ficus rubiginosaPort Jackson Fig (also banyan specie)
Little-leaf Fig
Rusty Fig
Native of eastern Australia.
Ficus virensCurtain Fig (another type of Strangler Fig)Subtropical rainforest regions of north eastern New South Wales and the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland.
Ficus watkinsianaCathedral Tree (another type of Strangler Fig)
Green-leaved Moreton Bay Fig
Occurs naturally from Queensland, south to near Dungog in New South Wales.

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Clade: Eudicots
  • Clade: Rosids
  • Order: Rosales
  • Family: Moraceae
  • Tribe: Ficeae
  • Genus: Ficus

Footnote & References

  • Much of this information has been cross referenced from numerous resources (much of it online) including
  1. Wikipedia – Ficus and Bush tucker
  2. Native Plants Queensland (formerly linked to Society for Growing Australian Plants, QLD Region, Inc that included section “Some of the Flora of the Scenic Rim” by Graham McDonald