Graeme Wilson (the Editor of the Moggill Creek Catchment Group’s Newsletter and responsible for the group’s Gold Creek Nursery) provided the impetus for assembling this webpage. He has been instrumental in passing on his love 0f native figs.
Figs thrive in their natural environment on our property and their beauty is a never-ending source of delight. Fig trees also play a significant part in sustaining the wildlife at our place.
The following summary of the different characteristics of the sandpaper figs is only intended to be a guide to NOVICES who are trying to label the sandpaper figs that occur in their own gardens. We can still find it difficult to distinguish between the sandpaper figs especially when they are young or their fruit is not in season. The fruit occurs on Ficus coronata from January to June, but on Ficus fraseri from June to November. There can be fruit on the Ficus opposita most of the year.There can also be differences in the shape, size and texture of leaves from the same plant. Our advice if you are still unable to identify is to WAIT until the plant is older or it is a different season.
At first the three sandpaper figs may appear to be quite different according to these main features…
… but we needed extra information to identify the sandpaper figs at our place.
Identifying the differences between the three sandpaper figs that are native to the western suburbs of Brisbane
Ficus coronata: Creek Sandpaper Fig
- the fruit is solitary and the colour of its fruit is dark purple when ripe (Land For Wildlife, South East Queensland July 2010, Flora Profile by Alan Wynn – LFW)
- the fruit is hairy (Putting BackTheForest by Bryan Hacker, Rona Butler and Rae Rekdahl – PBTF) as also are the branchlets and undersurface of leaves (LFW)
- it has a crown (coronata)- a ring of bristles around the apex of the fruit (Wikipedia)
- the leaves are alternate (PBTF) and serrated (Graeme Wilson– GW)
- the leaves at the end of the branches settle into horizontal planes (GW)
- the juvenile leaves can be lobed (Trees and Shrubs in Rainforest of New South Wales and southern Queensland [Williams, Harden & McDonald 1984]- also known as The Red Book – TRB)
- very sandpapery on both sides of the leaf (TRB)
- the fruit is very palatable (GW)
In keeping with this tendency – for the Ficus coronata leaves to fan out in a horizontal plane at the end of their branches – it is usual for the leaves to be asymmetric at the base. As can be seen in the above photo, the side of the leaf next to the branch is smaller than the opposite side.
Ficus opposita: Sweet Sandpaper Fig
- the leaves are mostly opposite (occasionally alternate)(GW & LFW)
- the leaves can vary in size and shape (at our place they are mostly large and rounded but at the Gold Creek Nursery the Ficus opposita specimen has longer, pointed leaves)
- the leaves can be very rough on the upper side with a smoother furry underside or they can have huge numbers of soft hairs – top and bottom – and feel quite velvety
- fruit is paired in the axils of the leaves and most have a depressed-globose shape as in common greengrocer figs (TRB)
Ficus fraseri: Shiny Sandpaper Fig
- the juvenile leaves can be strongly lobed and they are alternate
- sometimes deciduous (LFW) – F.opposita has also been known to be deciduous (GW)
- paired roundish fruit which is a rough yellow fruit turning red/black (LFW)
- their natural environment is rainforest (Mangroves to Mountains by Leiper, Glazebrook, Cox and Rathie – MtM)
- the leaves are less thick and less sandpapery than the two others (GW) and they can have a shiny surface
- the branchlets are quite sandpapery
Below is an example of the difficulty of confidently identifying a particular sandpaper fig:
The leaves are not serrated and they are very long but they are not lobed (not F. coronata but unlike many F. fraseri). The leaves do not feel very sandpapery (so more likely to be F. fraseri or possibly F. opposita). There is no fruit which probably indicates that the plant is too young to bear fruit – but it also is in keeping with a F. fraseri which would not have fruit in February. However it stands in the midst of a group of new F. oppositas (suggesting it is also an F. opposita) which have self-generated along a water course (which is also a feature of F. coronata). The leaves are partly opposite and partly alternate.
So which sandpaper fig is it ? We will have to wait and see!
[2014: It is now several years since writing this webpage. We can now confidently say that it is a Ficus opposita. In fact the only time a Ficus coronata or a Ficus fraseri appears at our place is when we have planted it. All sandpaper figs that have sprung up without our help have proven to be Ficus oppositas.]
The following is a summary that can be printed into a useful guide for walking through your own garden. It begins with the most obvious steps for identification. Please note that it may not be enough to use only one feature (e.g. the edge of the leaf) to positively identify a plant. For instance the experts Williams, Harden & McDonald in Trees and Shrubs in Rainforest of New South Wales and southern Queensland 1984, on page 101, point out that the margins of F. coronatas may be ‘entire, toothed or crenulate’ and that the margins on the leaves of F. fraseri are ‘entire or shallowly-toothed’ and on the F. opposita they are ‘entire to toothed or often sinuate(wavy)’. Take your pick! but at our place we inevitably find that F. coronatas have serrations as Graeme Wilson claims!