Traditional uses and benefits of Weeping Fig

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Weeping fig Quick Facts
Name: Weeping fig
Scientific Name: Ficus benjamina
Origin India, southern China, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Philippines, northern Australia, and the islands of the South Pacific
Colors Initially green and then purple, yellow, red, or dark red when ripe
Shapes Spherical-ovoid or elliptic shape, sometimes pear-shaped
Health benefits Support for rheumatism, muscle pains or fatigue, ulcers, skin disorders, inflammation, piles, vomiting, leprosy, malaria, nose-diseases and cancer
Weeping fig scientifically known as Ficus benjamina is a woody evergreen plant in the fig or mulberry family (Moraceae). The plant is native to a large area including India, southern China, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Philippines, northern Australia, and the islands of the South Pacific. The tree is cultivated in many parts of the world including American Samoa (Tutuila), French Polynesia (cult.), Marshall Islands (Kwajalein (cult.), Majuro (cult.), Tonga as well as Florida, in the United State. The tree grows naturally in Asia and northern Australia but has long since been a popular houseplant here in Europe. In tropical places, ficus is also used outdoors as an ornamental shrub, but it is unfortunately an invasive plant there. Few of the popular common names of the tree are Benjamin fig, Benjamin tree, Benjamin’s fig, Java fig, Malayan banyan, java tree, oval-leaf fig tree, tropic-laurel, weeping banyan, weeping fig, weeping laurel, Benjamin’s-tree, golden fig, small-leaf rubber-plant, weeping fig tree, small-leaved fig, ficus tree, Chinese banyan, Weeping Chinese Banyan, Java Laurel, Java Willow, small-leaved rubber plant, Waringin, Ara Waringin, Jejawi and fico-chorao.

Genus name comes from the Latin name for the edible fig. It can grow as a tree or shrub and forms slightly droopy, overhanging branches, hence the nickname weeping fig. Similarly another reason behind the name is the trees are succulent and they store water in their trunks and branches hence the name weeping fig. The tree is harvested from the wild for local use as a medicine and source of fiber plus a low quality wood. It is very ornamental, being widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics and used as an avenue and shade-providing tree. It has long been an extremely popular indoor houseplant because of its attractive shape and tolerance for a variety of growing conditions. The plant is grown as a pioneer species in reforestation projects in Thailand.

Weeping Fig Facts

Name Weeping fig
Scientific Name Ficus benjamina
Native Large area including India, southern China, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Philippines, northern Australia, and the islands of the South Pacific
Common Names Benjamin fig, Benjamin tree, Benjamin’s fig, Java fig, Malayan banyan, java tree, oval-leaf fig tree, tropic-laurel, weeping banyan, weeping fig, weeping laurel, Benjamin’s-tree, golden fig, small-leaf rubber-plant, weeping fig tree, small-leaved fig, ficus tree, Chinese banyan, Weeping Chinese Banyan, Java Laurel, Java Willow, small-leaved rubber plant, Waringin, Ara Waringin, Jejawi, fico-chorao
Name in Other Languages Afrikaans: Treurvy
Arabic: Tin binyamin (تين بنيامين ),  fiks binjamina (فيكس بنجامينا)
Assamese: Bor-naheri-bor
Bengali: Lakṣa pākuṛa (লক্ষ পাকুড়)
Brazil: Beringan, ficus-benjamina, figueira-benjamina
Burmese: Kyet kadut, Nyaung lun, Nyaung thabye, nyaung laann (ညောင်လန်း)
Caribbean: Figyé
Central Khmer: Chreikroem (ជ្រៃក្រឹម)
Chinese: Bai rong (白 榕),  Chui ye rong (垂叶榕), cong mao chui ye rong, Xi ye rong, Bai rong, Xiao ye rong, Chui rong (垂榕), Báiròu róng (白肉榕)
Cuba: Jaguey, laurel criollo
Czech: Fíkus drobnolistý
Danish: Birkefigen
Dominican Republic: Arbol de Washington, filipo, filpo, higo cimarrón, laurel, laurel de la India
Dutch: Wariengien, baniaanboom, treurvijg, waringin
English: Benjamin tree,  benjamin fig, Golden fig, Java fig,  Java fig tree, Tropic-laurel,  Weeping Chinese banyan, Weeping fig, java tree, Weeping-laurel, Malayan banyan, oval-leaf figtree               , ficus tree, small leaved rubber plant
Finnish: Limoviikuna
French: Figuier benjamina, figuier pleureur
German: Benjamin-Gummibaum, Birkenfeige, Benjamin-Feige, Benjamini
Greek: Benzamíni (Μπενζαμίνη)
Hebrew: Ficus ha’shderot, פיקוס השדרות , פיקוס השדרות
Hindi: Waringin, Pukar (पुकर), Sami, Sarane, Swami
Hungarian: Kislevelű fikusz
Icelandic: Fíkjutré Benjamíns
Indonesian: Beringin, wariengin, bergedat, caringing, rwaringin, sepreh, ajwundut, nanu merako
Israel: Ficus ha’shderot
Italian: Ficus beniamino               
Japanese: Shidare gajumaru (シダレガジュマル), Benjamin (ベンジャミン), benjamin-gomu-no-ki (ベンジャミンゴムノキ)
Javanese: Waringin
Kannada: Java atthi (ಜಾವಾಅತ್ತಿ), Jeevi (ಜೀವಿ)
Korean: Benjamingomunamu (벤자민고무나무)
Kwaraae: Fi‘i sirifena, sirifena
Laos: Oox ng
Lesser Antilles: Evergreen, laurel fig
Malay:  Beringin,  Mendera, Waringin, Pokok Ara Beringin
Malaysia/Peninsular Malaysia: Beringin, cheringin, waringin
Malayalam: Putra Juvi, veḷḷāl (വെള്ളാൽ)
Marathi: Nandaruk (नांदरूक)
Micronesia, Federated states of: Baola, baulagaragara, kaimabu baulagarangara, dunar
Mizo: Zamanhmawng
Myanmar: Kyet-kadut, nyaung-lun, nyaung-thabye
Nepali:  Banij, Conkar, Samii (शमी), Sami, Svaamii, Swami
Netherlands: Baniaanboom
New Guinea: Book kebar, Ihien, tehd
Nicaragua: Laurel de la India
North Frisian: Birkenfiig
Norwegian: Bjørkefiken
Persian: فیکوس بنجامین
Philippines: Balite, budbud, bugnai, salisi, salising-haoug, salsing-hubad
Polish: Figowiec benjamina, fikus benjamina
Portuguese: Beringan, ficus-benjamina, figueira-benjamina, fico-chorão
Puerto Rico: Laurel benjamin
Russian: Fikus Bendzhamina (Фикус  Бенджамина)
Sanskrit:  Mandara, Banij
Serbian: Fikus benjamina, Bendžamin, Fikus bendžamin (Фикус бенџамин)
Slovak: Fikus malolistý
Solomon Islands: Baula garanggara, haisi hena, sirifena
Spanish:  Árbol benjamín, Benjamina, Ficus benyamina, Matapalo, ficus, higuera llorona, jagüey, laurel de la India, Laurel               
Sudanese:  Caringin
Swedish: Benjaminfikus
Tamil: Vellal (வெள்ளால்), Nintamaravakai (நீண்டமரவகை)
Telugu: Konda Golugu, Konda Zuvvi, Putra Zuvvi,  Pedda Zuvvi (పెద్దా ఉవ్వీ)
Thai:  Thịr ŷxy (ไทรย้อย ),   Thịr ŷxy bı h̄ælm (ไทร ย้อยใบแหลม) 
Tongan: Ovava Fisi
Ukrainian: Fikus Bendzhamina (Фікус Бенджаміна)
Vietnamese:  Cây sanh, Sanh
Plant Growth Habit Large, slow-growing,  spreading, strangling fig tree
Growing Climates Moist mixed forests, near villages, towns, roadsides, disturbed thickets and hammocks
Soil Thrive in fertile, moist soils in full sun (Whistler, 2000) but it can tolerate drought and a wide range of soil types including clay, loam, and sand, as well as well-drained, with pH levels ranging from acidic to alkaline
Plant Size Up to 50 feet (15 m) outdoors and 3 to 6 feet tall when grown indoors. The bole can be 30 – 60cm in diameter
Root Roots are adventitious, occasionally hanging
Crown Symmetrical, spherical – hemispherical, which becomes wider with age, having a rather irregular outline, and dense foliage of fine texture
Bark Light gray and smooth. The bark of young branches is brownish.
Branchlets Brown, glabrous
Trunk Trunk is somewhat pale and smooth and can grow to 3m in girth on mature, outdoor trees
Leaf Leaves are leathery, oblong-ovate, 6 to 9 centimeters long, with prominent and rather slender point, rounded base, entire margins, smooth green and shining; the nerves slender and spreading, not prominent. Petioles are 5 to 10 millimeters long
Flowering season August and September
Flower Syconiums or figs (hypanthodia) are a special form of inflorescence and not the botanical fruit of the tree. Inside them are bearing the flowers (florets), which are of 3 types, including on the one hand the males and on the other the fertile females and the sterile females (or galls)
Fruit Shape & Size Spherical-ovoid or elliptic shape, sometimes pear-shaped. They are 0.7 to 1 cm width, 0.8 to 1.5 cm length and have a diameter of 2.0 to 2.5 cm (3⁄4 to 1 inch)
Fruit Color Initially green and then purple, yellow, red, or dark red when ripe
Plant Parts Used Bark, root, leaves
Propagation By aerial roots, semi-hardwood cuttings and by seeds
Lifespan From 40 to 150 years

Plant Description

Weeping fig is a large, slow-growing, spreading, strangling fig tree that normally grows up to 50 feet (15 m) outdoors and 3 to 6 feet tall when grown indoors. The bole can be 30 – 60 cm in diameter. Roots are adventitious, occasionally hanging. Crown is symmetrical, spherical hemispherical, which becomes wider with age, having a rather irregular outline, and dense foliage of fine texture. The trunk is somewhat pale and smooth and can grow to 3m in girth on mature, outdoor trees. Bark is light gray and smooth. The bark of young branches is brownish. The plant usually 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. They supply nutrients to the fig, allowing it to grow faster than the host tree. The aerial roots gradually encircle the host tree, preventing its main trunk from expanding, whilst at the same time the foliage smothers the foliage of the host. Eventually the host dies, leaving the fig to carry on growing without competition.

The plant is found growing in moist mixed forests, near villages, towns, roadsides, disturbed thickets and hammocks. It thrive in fertile, moist soils in full sun but it can tolerate drought and a wide range of soil types including clay, loam, and sand, as well as well-drained, with pH levels ranging from acidic to alkaline. It is a very popular house plant, due to its elegant growth and tolerance of poor growing conditions. It does best under bright, sunny conditions but will also tolerate considerable shade. It requires a moderate amount of watering in summer, and only enough to keep it from drying out in the winter. It does not need to be misted. The plant is sensitive to cold and should be protected from strong drafts. When grown indoors, it can grow too large for its situation, and may need drastic pruning or replacing.

Leaves

Leaves are simple, leathery and intensely green, their shape is mainly ovate but often lanceolate or broad – elliptic, and their dimensions range between 3.6 to 12.5 cm in length, and 1.5 to 6 cm in width. They are arranged alternately on the shoots, with which they are connected by a petiole 5 to 30 mm long and 0.7 to 1.5 mm in diameter, which is adaxially sulcate and has a permanent skin. The base of the lamina is rounded to broad cuneate shaped and sometimes cordate, the margins are entire, while the apex is relatively short and acuminate. The cystoliths are visible on the adaxial surface of the blade as raised dots, and the waxy glands are either absent or present at the base of the mid vein, at the junction with petiole.

On either side of the mid vein are 8 to 10 almost regularly spaced secondary nerves, which are anastomosed near the margins, while the tertiary nerves are also visible. The stipules are 2, amplexicaul, caducous, membranous, and glabrous, lanceolate and 8 to 20 mm long. Leaves can be a shiny dark green or light green or creamy white and become darker green as the plant ages.

Leaf arrangement Alternate
Leaf type Simple
Leaf margin Undulate, entire
Leaf shape Narrowly lanceolate to ovate
Leaf venation Pinnate
Leaf type and persistence Evergreen
Leaf blade length 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color Dark to medium green and shiny on top, paler green underneath
Fall color No color change
Fall characteristic Not showy

 

Flower

The syconiums or figs (hypanthodia) are a special form of inflorescence and not the botanical fruit of the tree. Inside them are bearing the flowers (florets), which are of 3 types, including on the one hand the males and on the other the fertile females and the sterile females (or galls) – all hairless.

The male florets are few in number, are carried on a short peduncle, have a stamen on a relatively long filament, and are surrounded by a three-lobed or four-lobed calyx, with broadly ovate lobes. The female florets are sessile, they have a short and curved style (lateral) with an enlarged stigma, and they are surrounded by a three-lobed calyx, with shortly spatulate lobes.

The gall florets are numerous, sometimes they have a peduncle and sometimes they do not, they have a short and curved style (lateral), and they are surrounded by a three-lobed, four-lobed and / or five-lobed calyx, with narrowly spatulate lobes.

Flower color Unknown
Flower characteristics Not showy; emerges in clusters within syconium produced by the tree

 

Fruits

The syconia, which are joined directly to the hypanthium, grow in the axils of the leaves, singly or more usually in pairs. They have a spherical-ovoid or elliptic shape, sometimes they are  pear-shaped, and their color is initially green and then purple, yellow, red, or dark red when ripe, with indistinguishable protruding rounded white spots on the surface.

Their size varies, having dimensions of 0.7 to 1 cm width, 0.8 to 1.5 cm length and have a diameter of 2.0 to 2.5 cm (3⁄4 to 1 inch). Also, the syconia enclose 2 to 3 unequal persistent bracts at the base, 0.5-1.5 mm wide which are crescentric and hairless, while the umbonate ostiole area is enclosed by another 3 minutes, flat and smooth imbricate bracts, 1.5 to 2 mm wide. Inside the figs are the real botanical fruits, the achene, which have an ovoid-reniform shape, while they are shorter than the persistent style.

Fruit shape Round
Fruit length 1/3 to 1/2 inch
Fruit covering Fleshy fig
Fruit color Turns from green to yellow, orange, or dark red when ripe
Fruit characteristics Does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Varieties

Ficus come in a wide range of varieties: some larger, some smaller. Each variety can have entirely green foliage or a mix of colors such as yellow, green, and white. Varieties with bright leaves usually require more light, while entirely green plants can also grow in partial shade.

  • Ficus benjamina ‘Natasja’: This ficus remains rather small, grows bushy and reaches a height of about 80cm. The leaves are a beautiful, vivid green.
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Barok’: The leaves of this variety are rolled up, a bit like curly hair. This weeping fig tree grows compactly.
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Golden King’: The foliage of this variety is golden yellow-green or creamy white variegated. It grows taller than 1m, although the growth can be limited by the size of the pot.
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Twilight’: This variety has remarkable light green foliage with white edges. It can also grow larger and should be placed in a particularly bright place, so that the tree develops healthy bright patterned foliage.

Traditional uses and benefits of Weeping Fig

  • The plant is also used as antimicrobial, antino-ciceptive, antipyretic, hypotensive and anti-dysentery remedy.
  • In norther Surigao del Sur, preheated and pounded bark is applied directly to area of rheumatism.
  • The Subanens in Zamboanga del Sur apply the poultice of bark on fractures.
  • Latex is used to seal minor wounds.
  • Juice of bark is used for liver diseases.
  • Pounded leaves and bark applied as poultice for rheumatic headache.
  • In Nepal, decoction of roots of Ficus benjamina is drank three times daily for relief of muscle pains or fatigue in women.
  • It is also used as appetite stimulant.
  • Latex is applied to boils.
  • In Vietnam, latex applied to itches.
  • In India the milky juice of the plant is used to treat whitening of the cornea of the eye.
  • Decoction of the leaf, mixed with oil, is applied externally to ulcers.
  • In Indo-China the latex is mixed with alcohol and prescribed for shock, and the pounded roots are applied to poison arrow wounds.
  • Its latex and some fruit extracts are used by indigenous communities to treat skin disorders, inflammation, piles, vomiting, leprosy, malaria, nose-diseases and cancer besides the use as a general tonic.
  • Leaves and twigs are used as insect repellant.
  • Bark of the root, the root itself, and the leaves are boiled in oil and applied on wounds and bruises.
  • The juice of the bark (latex) has a reputation in the Philippines for curing liver diseases.
  • Pounded leaves and bark are applied as a poultice in the treatment of rheumatic headaches.
  • In some parts of the world, its leaves and fruit extract are used by indigenous communities to treat skin and respiratory disorders.

Other Facts

  • It is often planted in villages and cemeteries.
  • Weeping fig is sometimes used for landscaping in urban areas and housing estates, and is planted along roadsides, although it can lift roads and pavements over time as its strong root system spreads.
  • Bark was once used to make rope while the fruit are eaten by birds and small mammals.
  • In Manila, it is planted as avenue and shade tree.
  • Wood is low quality, but used for temporary construction, moldings, interior work, cladding, drawers, crates and boxes, etc.
  • Twigs are used as insect repellent by keeping them under the beds.
  • In Nepal, bark wrapped in grass with inflorescence of Musa paradisica and dry seed of Oryza sativa is fed to cattle to minimize risk of abortion.
  • It is the official tree of Bangkok.
  • The inner bark is a source of fiber.
  • The wood is used for fuel.
  • The largest plant is in India, with a crown width of 131 m and in excess of 1775 aerial roots.
  • Sometimes, it is also used for the landscaping in housing estates and urban areas.
  • Leaf juice can be used as bug and flea repellant.

Management Recommendations

Ficus benjamina is widely planted in dense concentrations on Maui in most urban areas and is presently not spreading in Hawai’i due to the fact that its pollinator wasp has not yet been introduced. Should the wasp arrive and successfully establish on Maui, the small size of fruit, large population size, and epiphytic nature may lead to an aggressive invasive nature similar to that of the pest, Ficus microcarpa, though this is not certain. For now, F. benjamina is a widely planted tree that is not spreading and the best way to keep it that way is to prevent the arrival of its associated pollinator wasp.

Different Control Methods

Physical control

Control of Ficus species seems daunting and is just beginning to be explored in Hawai’i. It is uncertain if small seedlings on the ground or as epiphytes can be pulled. Often, trees will germinate on and grow as epiphytes on other desirable trees, concrete structures, and fence posts. These are occasionally out of reach or on steep dangerous terrain. Care will need to be taken in order to successfully kill the unwanted Ficus while preserving the host. Without control, the host tree or structure is in danger of destruction through strangulation.

Chemical control

Hammer reports the following. “Fig trees are particularly sensitive to triclopyr herbicides as a basal or cut-stump treatment. Trees found growing on concrete or rock structures should be treated with herbicide while young to avoid costly structural damage. Use extreme caution when applying herbicide to figs growing as epiphytes to ensure that the poison does not contact the host tree. When exotic figs germinate high in the branches of large trees in natural forest communities, it may be extraordinarily difficult to get close enough to the fig to treat it.”

Biological control

Nadel et al. report several pests that could be looked at for biological control potential including various ants which were seen carrying off pollinator wasps from Ficus fruits, Hymenoptera and mites that may be parasites of the pollinator wasps, and staphylinids which were seen entering Ficus fruits and eating the pollinator wasps.

Cultural control

The pollinator wasps should be prevented from entering Hawai’i in order to prevent spread of F. benjamina.

Precautions

  • The plant is a major source of indoor allergens, ranking as the third-most common cause of indoor allergies after dust and pets.
  • In extreme cases, Ficus sap exposure can cause anaphylactic shock in latex allergy sufferers.
  • The consumption of parts of plants leads to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Exceptions are the edible fruits.
  • The sap from the plant contains furocoumarins, psoralens and ficin.
  • Frequent contact can cause itching of the eyes, cough, and wheezing; contact and exposure to sunlight can cause skin irritation with itching, redness and stinging.
  • Effects are usually minor or only lasting for a few minutes
  • If a person who is allergic to latex should avoid getting the latex liquid on their skin (6). Because it may cause anaphylactic shock (severe allergic reaction) in extreme conditions.
  • It also causes some common allergy symptoms like rhino conjunctivitis and allergic asthma to humans.
  • In some occupations such as gardeners, it can induce contact urticaria (swelling and redness). Angio-edema (swelling) and pruritus (irritation sensation).

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=19083#null

http://www.hear.org/pier/species/ficus_benjamina.htm

https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomydetail?id=16785

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/24065

https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=282745

http://www.stuartxchange.com/Balete.html

https://indiabiodiversity.org/species/show/266605

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2809661

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_benjamina

http://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Weeping%20Fig.html

http://www.hear.org/starr/hiplants/reports/pdf/ficus_benjamina.pdf

https://www.nparks.gov.sg/florafaunaweb/flora/2/9/2902

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/FIUBE

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST251

https://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Ficus+benjamina

https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=FIBE

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