Tree of the week: Ficus sansibarica – Knobbly fig – Knoppiesvy – Inkokhokho

Named after Zanzibar where Franz Stuhlmann, a naturalist, discovered it in 1889. Ficus sansibarica is a large tree with a spreading crown of up to 20x30m. The tree often begins life as an epiphyte, growing in the branch of another tree. As it grows older it sends down aerial roots which, when they reach the ground, quickly form roots and become much thicker and more vigorous, killing the host tree. In South Africa, this tree is found growing naturally in Mpumalanga, Lowveld and Limpopo.

This evergreen tree is fast growing with a growth rate of 1-1.2m per year. It exudes white latex from all parts of the tree. It got its common name ‘Knobbly fig’ from its interesting trunk. Knobs develop on the trunk and main branches where it previously bore fruit. Leaves of this tree are alternate, simple almost parallel with a prominent venation. The knobbly fig produces a lot of figs which attracts a wide range of fruit-eating birds, fruit bats, baboons, monkeys, and insects as well as insectivorous birds which feed upon the wasps that pollinate the figs.

The root system is very aggressive making this a shade tree for large gardens and parks only. Young plants make very attractive pot plants which do well in front of a window where they receive enough light. It is popularly grown as a bonsai specimen. Although Ficus sansibarica is frost sensitive, it can survive long periods of drought.