Small Leaved Fig – Ficus obliqua
Other Names: Small-Leafed Fig, Small Leaf Fig, Polynesian Banyan, Strangler Fig, Figwood, baka or baka ni viti (Fiji), burrawarra/baira (Dharawal)
Distinctive Characteristics: Like many Fig trees, the Small Leaved Fig develops a wide trunk with tall, ribbony, buttressed roots and forms a thick canopy of glossy, evergreen leaves. It can grow as a single-trunk tree, but more likely it grows as a parasitic 'strangler fig': born from a seed dispersed by a bird or bat atop a tree, it starts life as an epiphyte, absorbing nutrients and water from the air, dropping down multiple aerial roots from the host's branches that eventually take root in the earth. Over time, roots aggressively intertwine the trunk and fuse together, creating a latticework. Out-competing the host for space, nutrients and light, eventually the new tree becomes freestanding. The leaves and branches bleed a milky sap if cut. The tree has small fruits that turn from yellow-orange, to orange dotted with red, to dark-red figs.
Distribution: Native to eastern Australia, New Guinea, eastern Indonesia, and the southeastern Polynesian Islands. In Australia, it ranges from the Cape York Peninsula along the northeast coast of Queensland through New South Wales. Elevation: sea level to 3,300 ft. (1,000 m).
Ecosystem: Lives in subtropical rainforests, savanna woodland, sclerophyll forests, and gallery forests.
Maximum Age: Estimated at 500 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 200 ft. (60 m) in height; 54 ft. (16.5 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: Many bird species consume the fruit and disperse the seeds, including double-eyed fig parrot, rainbow lorikeet, southern cassowary, brown cuckoo-dove, rose-crowned fruit dove, wompoo fruit dove, wonga pigeon, topknot pigeon, silvereye, pied currawong, black-faced cuckoo-shrike, olive-backed oriole, Australasian fig-bird, green catbird, regent bowerbird, satin bowerbird, and Lewin's honeyeater. Polynesian species include the many-colored fruit dove and crimson-crowned fruit dove. Bats such as the spectacled flying fox and grey-headed flying fox also eat the fruit. The leaves serve as a food source for the larvae of the butterfly species known as common crow and no-brand crow, as well as the geometer moth. The tree is pollinated by two species of fig wasp: Pleistodontes greenwoodi and P. xanthocephalus.
Medicine: Its white latex sap has been used to treat swollen joints and limbs (Fiji) and boils (Samoa, Fiji, Tonga). Liquid extracted from the root bark has been used to treat headaches and improve breast milk. A cold poultice of leaves was applied to treat venereal lesions (Fiji). A tea was made from the stem bark or leaves to treat respiratory ailments (Fiji). An infusion of the leaves was used to treat breast tumors (Tonga). It was mixed with other plants to treat convulsions (Fiji).
Threats and Conservation: Not threatened.