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Ficus sansibarica
Ficus sansibarica

The Knobbly fig (Ficus sansibarica) is an African species of cauliflorous fig. It is named after Zanzibar, where Franz Stuhlmann discovered it in 1889.[3] They often begin life as epiphytes, which assume a strangling habit as they develop.[4] They regularly reach 10 m, but may grow up to 40 m tall as forest stranglers.[1]

Range and habitat

It occurs in the African tropics and subtropics from coastal elevations to 900 m above sea level.[5] The nominate subspecies has an easterly distribution, but extends westwards up the Zambezi Valley.[6]

They are found in coastal, riverine and evergreen forests or woodland, and in miombo woodlands. They are locally cultivated in parks,[6] villages[4] or bush camps. They prefer deep sandy soil and often start life as a strangler.[7][8] The pollinating wasp is Courtella armata.[5]


The light grey bark is fairly smooth, though lumpy and folded.[1] The smooth leaves are up to 13 cm long and oblong-obovate.[8] They have parallel sides and are carried on slender petioles.[1]

The large (up to 5 cm), bitter-tasting figs appear in groups of 2 or 3 during the summer months.[1] They are cauliflorous, growing on the characteristic wart-like, leafless branchlets on the trunk and main branches (i.e. old wood).[7]

F. chirindensis of the forests of southeastern Zimbabwe and adjacent Mozambique is similar, but has the leaves more oval, often has buttress roots,[7] and bears the small (1.5 cm) figs in stalked pairs on second year branches.[1]


The raw figs are used for food, and are locally believed to promote fertility. Stems are torn apart to obtain fibers for basket weaving.[4] Locally it is also deemed sacred.

Subspecies and status

The species is deemed critically endangered in Swaziland, where most are located in proposed sugar cane expansion areas near Sihoye.[9] On Inhaca Island however, it is held sacred by most communities, and is scrupulously protected.[3]

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