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How does your garden grow?  
By Eric Danell Dokmai Garden


The Creeping Fig and its fruit

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.

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The Creeping Fig and its fruit