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      Ficus rubiginosa (Photo: John R McPherson) - Click for full size   Ficus rubiginosa established on a Grevillia robusta tree (Photo: John R McPherson) - Click for full size   Ficus rubiginosa established on dead Phoenix palm (Photo: John R McPherson) - Click for full size   Ficus rubiginosa on dead phoenix palm (Photo: John R McPherson) - Click for full size   Ficus rubiginosa (Photo: John R McPherson) - Click for full size   Ficus rubiginosa seedlings (arrowed) along with F. virens (with obvious venation) and Ficus benjamina (uprooted and the largest of the group of plants at right) readily establish as lithophytes.(Photo: John R McPherson) - Click for full size
    Taxonomic name: Ficus rubiginosa Desf. Ex Vent.
    Synonyms: Ficus australis Willd., Sp. Pl. 4: 1138 (1806), Ficus baileyana Domin, Biblioth. Bot. 89: 12 (1921). , Ficus leichhardtii (Miq.) Miq., Ann. Mus. Bot. Lugduno-Batavum 3: 268 (1867); , Ficus leichhardtii var. angustata Miq., Ann. Mus. Bot. Lugduno-Batavum 3: 268 (1867); , Ficus macrophylla var. pubescens F.M. Bailey, Queensland Agric. J. 26: 316 (1911)., Ficus obliqua var. petiolaris (Benth.) Corner, Gard. Bull. Singapore 17: 402 (1960)., Ficus platypoda var. angustata (Miq.) Corner, Gard. Bull. Singapore 21: 27 (1965). , Ficus platypoda var. leichhardtii (Miq.) R.F.J. Hend., Austrobaileya 4: 119 (1993). , Ficus platypoda var. mollis Benth., Fl. Austral. 6: 170 (1873)., Ficus platypoda var. petiolaris Benth., Fl. Austral. 6: 170 (1873); , Ficus platypoda var. subacuminata Benth., Fl. Austral. 6: 170 (1873). , Ficus rubiginosa var. lucida Maiden, Forest Fl. New South Wales 1: 10 (1902)., Ficus rubiginosa var. variegata Guilf., Austral. Pl. 178 (1911). , Ficus shirleyana Domin, Biblioth. Bot. 89: 12 (1921). , Mastosuke rubiginosa (Desf. ex Vent.) Raf., Sylva Tellur. 59 (1838), Urostigma leichhardtii Miq. J. Bot. Neerl. 1: 235 (1861); , Urostigma rubiginosum (Desf. ex Vent.) Gasp. Nov. Gen. Fic. 7 (1884)
    Common names: little leaf fig, Port Jackson fig, rusty fig, rusty-leaved fig
    Organism type: tree, shrub
    Ficus rubiginosa is potentially a broad, spreading, evergreen tree that is native to eastern Australia. It usually establishes as a hemiepiphyte or lithophyte, developing into a large strangler or rock-breaker on favourable sites, or remaining a small epiphytic or lithophytic shrub on very harsh sites. Ficus rubiginosa has been introduced to various locations throughout the Australia/Pacific region, North America and Europe as an ornamental tree that is tolerant of many climates and its hardiness in urban environments. Ficus rubiginosa has no effective population controls outside Australia. It regularly produces large crops of fruit and can become invasive and adversely affect native plant communities and urban ornamental trees if its symbiont pollinator wasp, Pleistodontes imperialis is also introduced. Further, its powerful root system can seriously damage urban infrastructure in the absence of adequate weed control measures.
    Description
    For detailed description of this species, please read our species description pdf file.
    Similar Species
    Ficus macrophylla, Ficus obliqua, Ficus watkinsiana

    More
    Occurs in:
    natural forests, planted forests, riparian zones, scrub/shrublands, urban areas
    Habitat description
    Ficus rubiginosa has very broad habitat and climate tolerance.
    PIER (2005) reports that Ficus rubiginosa can subsist in moist forests and in open areas. In New Zealand it has been found occupying rock walls, rocky outcrops and even other tree trunks. McPherson (1999, 2004) found F. rubiginosa established with equal facility as a hemiepiphyte or lithophyte in urban areas of Queensland, Australia. In eastern Australia, F. rubiginosa occurs in climates ranging from tropical to warm temperate, and from the well watered coast inland to areas bordering on semi-arid (Dixon et al. 2001).
    General impacts
    In suitable climates, Ficus rubiginosa readily establishes on trees and infrastructure in urban areas, and on trees and rocky areas in rural areas. It can invade forests in any successional phase and regardless of disturbance. Its aseasonal, heavy cropping can substantially affect the behaviour and number of frugivores in areas where it occurrs.

    In New Zealand, F. rubiginosa lacks natural enemies, and is noted as being avoided by possums when browsing (Gardner and Early, 1996). Gilman and Watson (1993) report that the fruit does not attract wildlife on the USA mainland, but in Hawaii though, Starr et al. (2003) report that a variety of birds consume the fruit and disperse the seeds. These characteristics along with this species ability to quickly reach large sizes raise concerns that F. rubiginosa could invade forest habitats and affect native plant communities in Australasia-Pacific regions (Gardner and Early, 1996; PIER, 2005). Further, urban areas within and outside the species natural range can be invaded from ornamental plantings, resulting in damage or destruction of urban trees and infrastructure (McPherson 1999, 2004).

    Uses
    Gilman and Watson (1993) state that F. rubiginosa is one of the hardiest of the rubber trees, and makes an attractive specimen tree, especially when only a few major branches are allowed to develop creating a more open form. It is well-suited as a shade or street tree and should require little maintenance once initial pruning creates a good structural habit (Gilman and Watson, 1993). The authors also list certain instances in which F. rubiginosa has been used for: "Hedges; It is suitable for growing indoors; in large parking lot islands; wide tree lawns, medium-sized parking lot islands; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; screen; shade tree; specimen; residential street tree; tree has been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought are common." In rural Queensland and New South Wales F. rubiginosa, along with other Ficus spp. was commonly retained as a shade tree for livestock when closed-forests were cleared by pastoralists (Williams 1979). Ease of propagation also allowed it to be widely planted for this purpose.
    Notes
    Dixon et al. (2001) recognised two forms of Ficus rubiginosa: Ficus rubiginosa f. rubiginosa has leaves which are variously hairy, while Ficus rubiginosa f. glabrescens has glabrous leaves. Ficus rubiginosa f. glabrescens seems confined to Queensland, while Ficus rubiginosa f. rubiginosa is found in both New South Wales and Queensland (Dixon et al. 2001) and appears to be the form establishing outside the species' historical range.
    Geographical range
    Native range: Australia (PIER, 2005). Eastern coastal and sub coastal Australia from far northern Queensland to south eastern New South Wales (Dixon et al. 2001).
    Known introduced range: Australasia-Pacific region, Europe, and North America. (GBIF, 2005)
    Introduction pathways to new locations
    Acclimatisation societies: Starr et al. (2003) state that in Hawai'i "This tree is commonly used as a houseplant, specimen, street, or shade tree. It has evergreen dense growth with a rusty appearance to leaves and young branches. In Hawai'i, it was a popular forestry tree and several thousands were planted on O'ahu (2,186), Maui (1,057), and Hawai'i (36,535) during the 1920's-1930's (Skolmen 1960). It is also occasionally used as a street tree or grown singly in yards."
    For ornamental purposes: Gilman and Watson (1993) state that it is well-suited as a shade or street tree and should require little maintenance once initial pruning creates a good structural habit. The authors also list certain instances in which F. rubiginosa has been used for: "Hedges; It is suitable for growing indoors; in large parking lot islands; wide tree lawns, medium-sized parking lot islands; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; screen; shade tree; specimen; residential street tree; tree has been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought are common."
    Forestry:
    Nursery trade:
    Taken to botanical garden/zoo:


    Local dispersal methods
    Consumption/excretion: McPherson (1999) states that, “Ficus spp. are unable to reproduce without their species-specific pollinator wasps. Should these wasps disperse to an area where their symbiont fig has been planted, the fig may begin to invade that area."
    Gardner and Early (1996), Starr et al. (2003), McPherson (1999, 2004) and PIER (2005) all state that local frugivores find the fruits attractive and subsequently disperse the seeds.
    For ornamental purposes (local): McPherson (1999) states that, “Towns and cities may act as centers of establishment for Ficus spp. from outside the area."
    Management information
    The Environment Bay of Plenty (UNDATED) states that, "Vigilance is required to stop this species establishing in the wild where the right habitat is available. Treat new infestations immediately."

    Physical: The Environment Bay of Plenty (UNDATED) suggests pulling seedlings and cutting down larger trees .

    Chemical: The Environment Bay of Plenty (UNDATED) states that after felling F. rubiginosa trees, holes should be drilled into the trunk. These holes should be downward sloping and not more than 50mm apart around the trunk. After creating the holes the stumps should be poisoned by pouring stump paint herbicide mixes into the hole. Unless the stump is poisoned the tree will quickly resprout.

    Cultural: In regions where the species is grown ornamentally, it is most important to exclude the pollinator wasp, Pleistodontes imperialis, if it is yet to establish. If areas have their own indigenous Ficus spp., a program of replacing ornamental F. rubiginosa with endemic Ficus might be considered.

    Nutrition
    F. rubiginosa can tolerate extremes of soil fertility. As a hemi-epiphyte or lithophyte, F. rubiginosa must be able to germinate and initially grow in low nutrient, arid conditions. If its roots reach better soils it transforms into a large, free standing tree, thriving on high fertility soils. Gilman and Watson (1993) state that, "F. rubiginosa is easily grown in full sun or partial shade, and will thrive on a variety of well-drained soils. Once it is established, it can withstand periods of drought and -1 degrees C. for a short time." McPherson (2004) though, noted F. rubiginosa invasion of remant Melaleuca forests on seasonally waterlogged soils following medium term exclusion of fire in several Queensland urban areas.
    Reproduction
    McPherson (1999) states that, "Fig flowers are pollinated by small, symbiont, agaoinid wasps. Successful biological invasion by a Ficus species thus involves co-invasion by its symbiont pollinator. Ficus spp. are unable to reproduce without their species-specific pollinator wasps. Should these wasps disperse to an area where their symbiont fig has been planted, the fig may begin to invade that area. Towns and cities may act as centers of establishment for Ficus spp. from outside the area."

    A female fig wasp enters a syconium (fig) and galls the short styled female flowers while pollinating the long styled female flowers. Wingless male fig wasps emerge first from the galls, inseminate the females and then bore exit tunnels out of the fig for the winged females. Females emerge, collect pollen from the male flowers and fly off in search of syconia whose female flowers are receptive. In order to support a population of its pollinator, individuals of a Ficus spp. must flower asynchronously. A population must exceed a critical minimum size to ensure that at any time of the year at least some plants have overlap of emmission and reception of fig wasps. Without this temporal overlap the short-lived pollinator wasps will go locally extinct (McPherson 1999, 2004).

    Lifecycle stages
    Verkerke (1989, p. 612) defines the fig or syconium as: “...an infolded receptacle apically closed off by numerous bracts. These bracts tightly close off the entrance or ostiole. Internally the fig wall is covered in small unisexual florets. The fig (syconium) acts as both flower and fruit but the true fruit are the achenes or drupes formed by the florets.” Ficus rubiginosa has monoeceous syconia (Dixon et al. 2001) pollinated by Pleistodontes imperialis (Wiebes, 1994). Frugivorous, flying vertebrates are the chief dispersal vectors (McPherson 1999, 2004).

    When establishing as a hemiepiphyte F. rubiginosa usually remains rather inconspicuous until its roots reach mineral soil. Dependant on the nutrient and moisture status of the soil it may at this stage go on to develop into a large tree that envelops it phorophyte in strangler roots and overshades it. On drier sites with poor soils though, F. rubiginosa may remain a small to moderately sized semi-epiphyte in the long term, inflicting little or no damage on its phorophyte (McPherson 2004).

    Many mature, healthy specimens of F. rubiginosa dating from the 19th Century can be found in Queensland's historical parks and gardens (McPherson, 1999, 2004), indicating at least reasonable longevity for individuals of the species.

    Reviewed by: Dr John Robert McPherson, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.
    Compiled by: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) & IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) with support from the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) Programme (Copyright statement)
    Last Modified: Monday, 12 December 2005


ISSG Landcare Research NBII IUCN University of Auckland