Ficus sur (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Dye / tannin|
|Essential oil / exudate|
|Forage / feed|
Ficus sur Forssk.
- Protologue: Fl. aegypt.-arab.: 180 (1775).
- Family: Moraceae
- Chromosome number: 2n = 26
- Ficus capensis Thunb. (1786),
- Ficus riparia (Miq.) A.Rich. (1850),
- Ficus mallotocarpa Warb. (1894).
- Wild fig, cape fig, broom cluster fig, bush fig (En).
- Petit sycomore (Fr).
- Mkuyu, mkuju, mwangajo (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Ficus sur is widely distributed throughout tropical Africa, from Cape Verde east to Somalia and south to Angola and South Africa. It also occurs in Yemen.
The wood is locally used for construction, furniture, mortars for grinding flour, kitchen utensils, pots, boxes, beer troughs, drums and beehives. It is also suitable for sporting goods, agricultural implements, hardboard and particle board. The wood was formerly used for making brake blocks and bed boards for ox wagons. Wood from the branches is made into knife-handles in the Central African Republic. The wood is also used as fuelwood. In South Africa small pieces of wood are used as firesticks to ignite fire by friction.
The ripe figs are sometimes eaten and are also made into jam. In Ghana they are fed to cage-birds. Young leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Young aerial roots are said to be edible as well. The foliage is eaten by cattle, sheep and goats. The leaves are used as sandpaper. The bark is chewed with kola in Sierra Leone. The inner bark is used to make rope and cloth. The bark yields a brown dye and is used for tanning leather. The latex is made into balls and bird lime. The tree is used as an ornamental and shade tree, and in hedges; in Ethiopia it serves as a shade tree for coffee.
Ficus sur has many applications in traditional medicine, although the plant contains toxic substances and root and bark decoctions are recorded to have caused death. Thus, care should be taken in using it. The latex is used for treating wounds, toothache, eye problems, general body pain, lung and throat problems, gonorrhoea and as an anti-emetic. Root preparations are used for treatment of cough, sore throat, diarrhoea, stomach pain in babies, chest pain, infertility, uterine pain, gonorrhoea, oedema, and as an emmenagogue and emetic. Bark decoctions or infusions are used against pain, rheumatism, diarrhoea, stomach problems, oedema in children, infertility and as a galactagogue. The powdered bark is applied on skin rashes and mouth sores. Bark macerations are drunk for treatment of fever and cough. Sap squeezed from leaves is applied onto wounds, and the leaves are chewed as a remedy for peptic ulcers. A leaf maceration is drunk against chest problems. Leaf decoctions are used as a disinfectant wash and in the treatment of ophthalmia. Leaf infusions are drunk to treat tonsillitis and stomach pain. The sap of young shoots is taken against gonorrhoea. Fig preparations are used to treat infertility, tuberculosis, abscesses and sores, and as a lactogenic, purgative and aphrodisiac. The seed is used as a lactogenic. In veterinary medicine the leaves, figs and latex are said to stimulate milk production in cows, and the latex is given to cows to assist in expelling a retained part of the placenta after giving birth. The latex and decoctions of the twig and leaf are recorded as being used for arrow poison, and the plant has been used for criminal poisoning in Senegal. Magical properties are often ascribed to the tree and it is a symbol of fertility. In Uganda the leaves are made into good-luck charms.
The heartwood is white or yellow and not clearly demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is straight or interlocked, texture moderately coarse to coarse. The wood has a sweet smell when green. It is slightly sticky when freshly sawn due to the latex.
The wood is porous and lightweight. At 12% moisture content, the density is 300–450(–650) kg/m³. Warping may occur during air drying, and splitting is prevalent in smaller pieces. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are 4.5% radial and 7.6% tangential.
The wood is soft, brittle and not strong. Wood from South Africa had, at 12% moisture content, a modulus of rupture of 30 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 2900 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 14 N/mm², shear 4 N/mm², Janka side hardness 1160 N and Janka end hardness 1870 N.
The wood is easy to saw, although the presence of latex may cause clogging of saw blades. Nailing and screwing usually do not cause problems, although the nail and screw holding capacity may be poor. Gluing, painting and varnishing give good results. The peeling characteristics are good.
The wood is not durable and cannot be used in contact with the ground or exposed to the weather. It is susceptible to marine borer attack, and moderately susceptible to termite attack. The sapwood is susceptible to Lyctus borer attack. The heartwood is moderately resistant to impregnation by preservatives, the sapwood is permeable. The wood is recorded as causing dermatitis in workers handling the wood.
Bark, leaf and root extracts have shown in-vitro antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity. Methanolic extracts of the leaves, stem bark and root bark have shown in-vivo antimalarial activity in mice. Aqueous and methanolic extracts of the dried leaves have shown in-vivo anti-ulcer activity in rats and in-vitro spasmolytic effects.
- Medium-sized tree up to 30(–35) m tall, with white latex present in all aerial parts; bole up to 150 cm in diameter, sometimes with buttresses; outer bark brownish to grey or whitish, inner bark greenish to pink; crown massive, spreading.
- Leaves arranged spirally, simple, shiny red when young; stipules 1–3.5 cm long; petiole 1–9 cm long; blade elliptical to ovate or oblong, sometimes nearly orbicular or lanceolate, 4–23(–32) cm × 2–13(–16) cm, base rounded, truncate or almost cordate, apex acuminate to acute, margin toothed to wavy or entire, papery to leathery, upper surface smooth, glabrous, lower surface hairy to glabrous, pinnately veined with (3–)5–9 pairs of lateral veins.
- Inflorescence a fig, the flowers enclosed within, figs on branched leafless branchlets up to 50–70(–150) cm long on the trunk or older branches, or occasionally 1–2(–3) together in the leaf axils, obovoid to globose, 1–4 cm in diameter, often stiped, glabrous to densely hairy, red to dark orange at maturity; peduncle 0.5–2 cm long.
- Flowers unisexual, sessile; male flowers with 3-lobed perianth and 2–3 stamens; female flowers with 2–4 tepals, 1-celled ovary and short or long style.
- Fruit an ellipsoid to oblong-ovoid drupe 1.5–2 mm long, 1-seeded, developing within the fig.
Other botanical information
Ficus comprises about 750 species, with about 100 species in Africa, 500 species in tropical Asia and Australia, and 150 species in tropical America.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):
- Growth rings: 2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent.
- Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); 31: vessel-ray pits with much reduced borders to apparently simple: pits rounded or angular; 32: vessel-ray pits with much reduced borders to apparently simple: pits horizontal (scalariform, gash-like) to vertical (palisade); 42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 μm; 43: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina ≥ 200 μm; 46: ≤ 5 vessels per square millimetre; 56: tyloses common.
- Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide; (89: axial parenchyma in marginal or in seemingly marginal bands); 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand.
- Rays: 98: larger rays commonly 4- to 10-seriate; 106: body ray cells procumbent with one row of upright and/or square marginal cells; 107: body ray cells procumbent with mostly 2–4 rows of upright and/or square marginal cells; 115: 4–12 rays per mm.
- Secretory elements and cambial variants: (132: laticifers or tanniferous tubes).
- Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 141: prismatic crystals in non-chambered axial parenchyma cells; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
Growth and development
Young plants grow fast and may reach a height of 1 m or more in the second year. The fig is not a fruit but a fruit-like structure (syconium) developed from an inside-out flower stalk containing many flowers inside. This is a closed structure with only a small opening at the top through which small female wasps enter, after which they lay eggs in special infertile ‘gall flowers’, while pollinating the fertile female flowers. Ficus sur is pollinated by various wasp species: Ceratosolen silvestrianus (West Africa), Ceratosolen flabellatus (West and East Africa) and Ceratosolen capensis (East and southern Africa).
Ficus sur occurs from sea-level up to 2500 m altitude, on riverbanks and in riverine forest, but also in upland forest, woodland and wooded grassland. It is often left standing when land is cleared. The tree prefers full sun, but tolerates partial shade. Young trees are sensitive to frost. Ficus sur grows on a wide range of soil types.
Propagation and planting
Ficus sur can be propagated from seed and stem cuttings. Seeds should be sown on a fine medium and remain uncovered. They germinate in 15–20 days. Seedlings are ready for planting out in the open when they are 1 m tall. Stem cuttings should be planted in moist sand; root-stimulating hormones may be used, but are not absolutely necessary.
Seedlings must be properly watered during the first two years after transplanting. Coppicing, lopping and pollarding are possible.
Because the logs often have a brittle heart, the trees are felled with utmost care, usually by hand.
Handling after harvest
The logs are very susceptible to insect and fungal attack (sapstain) and should be sawn and dried quickly or treated with preservatives after felling. The yield after sawing is usually poor, being reduced by the nodes of whorled branches. Debarking soon after felling improves wood quality.
Ficus sur seems not to be threatened by genetic erosion, because its occurrence is widespread and it is common in many regions, also in secondary forest. However, cutting the trees for timber and collection of the bark and latex for medicinal purposes may cause threats to local populations. This problem is aggravated by the fact that the bark recovers poorly after damage by exploitation. Ficus sur is not protected in Africa, except in Ethiopia.
Ficus sur produces timber of little commercial value because of the poor durability and limited uses of the wood. It will remain, however, a useful source of wood for local applications. Research is required to confirm the purported medicinal value and other uses of Ficus sur, and to assess its toxicity.
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Sources of illustration
- Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
- A.U. Lumbile, Botswana College of Agriculture, Private Bag 0027, Gaborone, Botswana
- K.K. Mogotsi, Botswana College of Agriculture, Private Bag 0027, Gaborone, Botswana
Correct citation of this article
Lumbile, A.U. & Mogotsi, K.K., 2008. Ficus sur Forssk. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 9 July 2021.
- See the Prota4U database.