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(fig), a genus of evergreen and, less commonly, deciduous trees and shrubs of the family Moraceae. There are some prostrate and climbing lianas; the latter climb by means of adventitious roots. Arboreal species reach 40 m in height and 3–5 m in diameter; they form massive roots at the base of the trunk. Many species, for example, the banyan (F. bengalensis), begin life as epiphytes and then form adventitious roots that reach the ground and proliferate into strong columnar supports for the massive crown. The aerial roots of certain epiphytic species strangle the host tree by entwining the trunk.
Fig leaves are usually entire; in some species they reach 60–70 cm in length. All parts of the plant contain a milky juice. The flowers, which have a reduced perianth, are small, usually unisexual, and complexly entomophilous. They develop on the internal surface of a spherical or pear-shaped hollow inflorescence that opens at the apex. The inflorescences form on the branches and on the trunks in the leaf axils. Pollination is performed by hymenopterons of the family Agaonidae. After fertilization a collective fruit, known as a syconium, develops. Each simple fruit of the syconium is dry and single-seeded; the walls of the syconium are either dry or juicy. The fruits of some species, for example, the common fig (F. carica) and the sycamore fig (F. sycomorus), are used as food.
There are more than 800 fig species, distributed in the tropics and, to a lesser extent, subtropics of both hemispheres. The plants are particularly widespread in the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia, the Malay Archipelago, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. The milky juice of many species contains rubber, but it is not commercially valuable. The rubber plant (F. elastica), which is native to India and Burma and is raised as a houseplant, has a rubber content of as much as 30 percent.
Several fig species, including the common fig and the banyan, are hosts of the scale Tachardia lacca, an insect from which shellac is obtained.
REFERENCESFedorov, A. A. “Drevesnye epifity i fikusy-udushiteli v tropicheskikh lesakh Kitaia.” Botanicheskii zhurnal, 1959, vol. 44, no. 10.
Corner, E. J. H. “Ficus in the Solomon Islands and Its Bearing on the Post-Jurassic History of Melanesia.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B. Biological Sciences, 1967, no. 783.
S. S. MORSHCHIKHINA