This is a section of a Ficus pumila ‘fruit’.
What we refer to as ‘fig’ is not one fruit. More correctly it is a structure
unique to the fig genus called syconium (Greek ‘sukon’=fig). It is a fleshy
outgrowth of the stem carrying hundreds or even thousands of flowers inside.
Each crunchy ‘grain’ is in fact a one seeded fruit. In this picture, the
flowers are still in blossom and so it is still inedible.
This anonymous green from southern China and Vietnam,
known for its ability to slowly cover walls with green leaves, such as at
the Chedi Hotel downtown and the Siam Celadon factory, now displays its
natural growth mode with large leaves and….pear-sized ‘fruits’!
Ketsanee calls this ornamental fig ‘tin tokae’ (gecko foot) after its tiny
leaves which cling to the surface like gecko feet. Other Thai names are ‘ma
duea thao’ (turtle fig) or ‘lin suea’ (tiger tongue). Most of us tropical
gardeners experience the plant as a flowerless and fruitless green used to
cover ugly walls. But the devoted field biologist or ignorant gardener
leaving his plants to develop without trimming will realize its true habit:
instead of puny 2.5 cm leaves, ‘untidy’ silvery branches growing out of the
main stem will carry 7 cm long (not including the petiole) and stiff leaves.
They are almost plastic in their appearance. At times large ‘fruits’
reaching 7 cm may emerge. ‘Pumila means ‘small’, a name coined by the
Swedish gentleman Linnaeus in 1753.
The flowers and fruits are well protected inside the syconium or fig. An
immature and unfertilized fig is loaded with the unpleasant milky sap and so
not appealing to bats, monkeys and birds that would only feed on the mature
(fertilized) figs. When in blossom, winged female wasps of the Agaonidae
family may squeeze through the mouth (ostiole) at the tip of the fig. Inside
they lay eggs. Wingless males mate with winged females, and when the females
escape they rub against the male flowers at the inside tip of the fig and
get covered in pollen. Interestingly, some fig individuals carry male
flowers only, providing food for the wasp larvae and pollen for
fertilization, while figs with female flowers are pollinated but too long to
be used for larval food (the ovipositor can not reach the ovule where the
larva develops). Another type of figs carry female flowers only, and they
may produce edible fruits without pollination.