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Plants: Species Collection: Fig (Ficus) Trees

In addition to being great shade trees with fascinating roots, the Zoo's many species of ficus provide 2.5 tons (2.27 tonnes) of animal browse each month. And that's just small potatoes compared to the natural world. Throughout the Earth's tropics, there are at least 1,000 species of figs that provide food and habitat for a rich variety of animals. Tree-dwellers like monkeys, birds, and fruit bats enjoy the sweet ficus fruit and disperse the seeds high in the branches of trees, buildings, and just about everywhere else, which is one of the reasons there are so many figs.

The ficus genus has many notable members, including the Bo tree Ficus religiosa that shaded Buddha, India rubber trees Ficus elastica , and the huge Moreton Bay figs Ficus macrophylla and Ficus watkinsiana that are so popular with visitors to the Zoo and Balboa Park.

Our ficus collection is one of the largest in the United States and includes some of the Zoo's oldest and largest trees. One of our Moreton Bay figs has a trunk circumference of more than 38 feet (11.5 meters). And the towering Ficus watkinsiana behind Flamingo Lagoon is the largest member of its species in the U.S.

While many animals enjoy ficus browse (including apes, elephants, rhinos, tapirs, and giraffes), for some it is crucial. Because we have a plentiful supply of the trees at the Zoo and Balboa Park, we are able to ship ficus browse to our friends at the Cincinnati Zoo twice a month for their rare Sumatran rhinoceroses. Until they began receiving their ficus care packages, the Cincinnati rhinos were having health problems. Now they're thriving.

Broad, thick leaves make ficus trees excellent shade producers in the Wild Animal Park's Field Exhibits. Surrounded by rocks and boulders to protect their elaborate root systems from heavy animals and pounding hooves, adaptable fig trees like Rusty ficus Ficus rubiginosa, and Indian laurel fig Ficus microcarpa help make the exhibits user-friendly in the heat of the afternoon.