Thursday, February 9, 2012

Moreton Bay Fig

Ficus macrophylla

In Ravensbourne National Park last weekend, these trees were in fruit, and were attracting every imaginable fruit-eating bird.

Figbirds, orioles, catbirds, wompoo fruit-doves and plenty of others could be seen from a comfortable spot in the picnic ground at Beutel’s Lookout.

This is a very recognisable species. As it matures, the large leaves become rusty brown on the underside, so it cannot be mistaken for any other fig.
Moreton Bay figs are native to the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing range, and have been planted to some extent on the western side. They were very popular as garden plants in the late 19th century, when lovers of art nouveau saw how well its shoots followed the sinuous curves of that fashionable style.

There seems to have been a fashion, here, for planting them in positions with a view. Old trees can still be found in such places around Toowoomba.

Here’s one in Murphy’s Creek Road at Mt Kynoch. The site was originally a pub at the end of the road, then a farmhouse, and it’s lovely to see this old tree retained in the suburbs.

This one is on Brady’s Sawmill Road, also looking east...

...and this one at the end of Hiwinds road has a magnificent view to the west, over the Bedford St. dump and Gowrie Mountain.

Moreton Bay figs' popularity as garden plant has waned with closer settlement and smaller housing blocks, because of their enormous, invasive, root systems. They are unsuitable for growing anywhere near buildings or underground services.
For large properties and parks, however, it would be difficult to find a more suitable large shade tree. Because of its heavy fruit crops, every plant makes a very large contribution to the local biota.
As with most trees, the shape depends on the plant's situation. In rainforests, where it reaches for light, it can be very tall and narrow. Planted in the open it spreads widely, making a lovely big shade tree. For fastest growth, it is best planted above ground (and frost) level, in an old tree stump or a suitable untreated wooden post.
Once past infancy, it survives our district's toughest frosts and droughts, needing no extra care.

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