AppearanceThe Moreton Bay fig is an evergreen tree that can reach heights of 60 m . The trunk can be massive, with thick, prominent buttressing, and reach a diameter of 2.4 m . The rough bark is grey-brown, and marked with various blemishes. It is monoecious: each tree bears functional male and female flowers. As implied by its specific epithet, it has large, elliptic, leathery, dark green leaves, 15–30 cm long, and they are arranged alternately on the stems. The leaves and branches bleed a milky sap if cut or broken. The figs are 2–2.5 cm in diameter, turning from green to purple with lighter spots as they ripen; ripe fruit may be found year round, although more abundant from February to May. Although edible, they are unpalatable and dry.
The characteristic "melting" appearance of the Moreton Bay fig is due to its habit of dropping aerial roots from its branches, which upon reaching the ground, thicken into supplementary trunks which help to support the weight of its crown.
It is a rainforest plant and in this environment more often grows in the form of an epiphytic strangler vine than that of a tree. When its seeds land in the branch of a host tree it sends aerial, "strangler" roots down the host trunk, eventually killing the host and standing alone.
Naming''Ficus macrophylla'' is commonly cultivated in Hawaii and in northern New Zealand. In both places, it has now naturalised, having acquired its pollinating wasp . In Hawaii the wasp was deliberately introduced in 1921, and in New Zealand it was first recorded in 1993, having apparently arrived by long-distance dispersal from Australia. The arrival of the wasp led to prolific production of fruits containing many small seeds adapted for dispersal by birds. The Moreton Bay fig has been found growing on both native and introduced trees in New Zealand and in Hawaii. The size and vigour of this fig in New Zealand, and its lack of natural enemies, as well as its immunity to possum browsing, indicate that it may be able to invade forest and other native plant communities.
DistributionThe Moreton Bay fig is a native of most of the eastern coast, from the Atherton Tableland in north Queensland, to the Shoalhaven River on New South Wales south coast. It is found in subtropical, warm temperate and dry rainforest, where, as an emergent tree, its crown may tower above the canopy, particularly along watercourses on alluvial soils. It often grows with trees such as white booyong , ''Flindersia'' species, giant stinging tree , lacebark , red cedar , hoop pine , green-leaved fig and ''Cryptocarya obovata''. The soils it grows on are high in nutrients, and include Bumbo Latite and Budgong Sandstone. As rainforests were cleared, isolated specimens were left standing in fields as remnant trees, valued for their shade and shelter for livestock. One such tree was a landmark for and gave its name to the Wollongong suburb of Figtree in New South Wales.
HabitatThe Moreton Bay fig is a native of most of the eastern coast, from the Atherton Tableland in north Queensland, to the Shoalhaven River on New South Wales south coast. It is found in subtropical, warm temperate and dry rainforest, where, as an emergent tree, its crown may tower above the canopy, particularly along watercourses on alluvial soils. It often grows with trees such as white booyong , ''Flindersia'' species, giant stinging tree , lacebark , red cedar , hoop pine , green-leaved fig and ''Cryptocarya obovata''. The soils it grows on are high in nutrients, and include Bumbo Latite and Budgong Sandstone. As rainforests were cleared, isolated specimens were left standing in fields as remnant trees, valued for their shade and shelter for livestock. One such tree was a landmark for and gave its name to the Wollongong suburb of Figtree in New South Wales.
The huge numbers of fruit produced by the Moreton Bay fig make it a key source of food in the rainforest. It is an important food to the fruit-eating pigeons such as the wompoo fruit-dove , and topknot pigeon , and a sometime food of the rose-crowned fruit-dove . Other bird species include the yellow-eyed cuckoo-shrike , pied currawong , Australasian figbird , green catbird , Regent bowerbird , satin bowerbird , and Lewin's honeyeater . Fruit bats such as the grey-headed flying-fox also feed on the fruit. In addition to the pollinating wasp, ''Pleistodontes froggatti'', syconia of the Moreton Bay fig are host to several species of non-pollinating chalcidoid wasps including ''Sycoscapter australis'' , ''Eukobelea hallami'' and ''Meselatus'' sp. .
The thrips species ''Gynaikothrips australis'' feeds on the underside of new leaves of ''F. macrophylla'', as well as ''F. rubiginosa'' and ''F. obliqua''. As plant cells die, nearby cells are induced into forming meristem tissue and a gall results, and the leaves become distorted and curl over. The thrips begin feeding when the tree has flushes of new growth, and the life cycle is around six weeks. At other times, thrips reside on old leaves without feeding. The species pupates sheltered in the bark. The thrips remain in the galls at night and wander about in the daytime and return in the evening, possibly to different galls about the tree.
Stressed trees can also be attacked by psyllids to the point of defoliation. Grubs hatch from eggs laid on the edges of leaves and burrow into the leaf to suck nutrients, the tree's own latex shielding the insect. Caterpillars of the moth species ''Eustixis caminaea'' can strip trees of their leaves. The tree is also a host for the longhorn beetle species ''Agrianome spinicollis''.
ReproductionFigs have an obligate mutualism with fig wasps ; figs are only pollinated by fig wasps, and fig wasps can only reproduce in fig flowers. Generally, each fig species depends on a single species of wasp for pollination. The wasps are similarly dependent on their fig species in order to reproduce. The mainland and Lord Howe populations of the Moreton Bay fig are both pollinated by the fig wasp ''Pleistodontes froggatti''.
As is the case with all figs, the fruit is actually an inverted inflorescence known as a syconium, with tiny flowers arising from the inner surface. ''Ficus macrophylla'' is monoecious—both male and female flowers are found on the same plant, and in fact in the same fruit although they mature at different times. Female wasps enter the syconium and lay eggs in the female flowers as they mature. These eggs later hatch and the progeny mate. The females of the new generation collect pollen from the male flowers, which have matured by this point, and leave to visit other syconia and repeat the process. A field study in Brisbane found that a ''F. macrophylla'' trees often bore both male and female syconia at the same time—which could be beneficial for reproduction in isolated populations such as those on islands. The same study found that male phase syconia development persisted through the winter, showing that its wasp pollinator tolerated cooler weather than those of more tropical fig species. ''F. macrophylla'' itself can endure cooler climates than other fig species.
UsesThe Moreton Bay fig has been widely used in public parks in frost-free areas, and was popular with early settlers of Australia. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Joseph Maiden, advocated the planting of street trees, generally uniform rows of the one species. He recommended Moreton Bay figs be spaced at 30 m intervals—far enough to avoid crowding as the trees matured but close enough so that their branches would eventually interlock. Specimens can reach massive proportions, and have thrived in drier climates; impressive specimen trees have been grown in the Waring Gardens in Deniliquin, and in Hay. They can withstand light frosts and can cope with salt-laden spray in coastal situations, and their fruit is beneficial for urban wildlife. However their huge size precludes use in gardens, and their roots are highly invasive and can damage piping and disrupt footpaths and roadways. The vast quantities of crushed fruit can be messy on the ground.
Although their root buttressing is a potential feature, the Moreton Bay fig is poorly suited to bonsai as their large leaves do not reduce much in size and they have long internodal growth. It is can be used as an indoor plant in medium to brightly lit indoor spaces.
The soft light timber has a wavy texture and is used for cases. Aborigines traditionally used the fibres for fishing nets.
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