In North America, ficus amplissima is known as the bat fig tree or the Indian bat tree, whereas in India, it is commonly known as the Pimpri, prpri, pipiali, or bilibasari mara. This ficus tree is a very important fruit tree to the regions it is native to.
The bat fig is a species of flowering plant that is part of the fig and mulberry family (Moraceae) and the genus ficus. The tree gets its name due to its close relationship with the common fruit bat (artibeus jamaicensis) which is part of the family pteropodid bats, and is commonly known as the flying fox.
These trees are most commonly planted as shade trees in coffee plantations, thanks to their dense canopy, wide foliage, and their ripe fruit that attracts much different bird, insect, and animal species.
If you don’t already know how fig trees reproduce, we highly suggest that you read on. Out of all 101 Types of Trees that we’ve covered in our mega list of trees from all over the world, there aren’t any other trees that reproduce as interestingly as the bat fig tree!
What do Bat Fig Trees Look Like?
Many other members of the genus ficus produce roots in the same manner as the bat fig tree does – and this is just as interesting as the way that they reproduce.
Bat fig trees start out their life as epiphytes, which are basically seedlings that start outside of the soil, and instead get their nutrients from the air and precipitation. As the seedling grows (usually within the canopy of another tree) it will grow aerial roots that appear as branches. Once these aerial roots reach the soil, they will then start to establish in the earth.
However, this is bad news for the host tree. The roots surround the host tree trunk, eventually strangling the tree entirely. This is where the close relative of the bat fig – the strangler fig tree (ficus aurea) gets its obvious name.
The bat fig is a medium to large tree, and can obtain heights between 25 and 35 meters, which a crown spread of around 10 meters. These trees usually have a trunk diameter of around 2 meters.
Bat fig trees have a large and spreading crown. Branches grow quite close together, creating a dense canopy that makes this tree a great shade tree. The aerial roots of the tree contribute to much of the growth pattern.
The bat fig tree has bark with a very smooth texture. It is light gray in young trees, getting slightly darker with more mature fig trees.
Bat figs are not entirely an evergreen species, and are semi-deciduous. This means that leaves do persist all year, but they will usually fall if there are very dry, drought like conditions.
Bat fig leaves are simple in shape and alternately arranged on a branch. They are between 2 and 5 inches in length, and are slender at the apex.
A bat fig leaf is a dark, glossy green color. They are either ovate-elliptic shaped or ovate oblong shaped. A leaf has a smooth margin with either a blunt or acute tip.
How do Bat Fig Trees Reproduce?
Here we go folks, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the absurd oddity that is the reproductive process of fig trees. Instead of monoecious flowers, these trees have monoecious figs, which are their reproductive organs. This means that each fig has both male reproductive characteristics and female reproductive characteristics.
Flowers & Fruit
The fig tree bears flowers in the form of a syconium type of inflorescence. This is a specific type of arrangement of flowers that all fig trees have, and these are hollow, fleshy receptacles that have multiple ovaries on the inside surface of the receptacle- in other words, a fig!
This receptacle is the syconia, and unisexual flowers arise within these inner walls. Each syconia will have a male flower, a long female styled flower, and a short female styled flower.
An unripe fruit is a bright green color, which eventually matures into a ripe fig, which is a deep purple color. The fruit’s seeds are coated in delicious fleshy casings, which many human, mammal, bird, and insect species all commonly enjoy.
This is where things start to get a little bit strange, and where we introduce the fig wasp. The fig wasp is an agaonidea wasp, meaning that is spends its larval phase inside an actual fig. The fig wasp is the sole pollinator of fig trees.
A female fig wasp enters the the fig, and lays her eggs inside the fig on the short female flower, and pollinates the long female flower in the process.
As the larvae hatches, both winged female wasps emerge, and wingless male wasps emerge. Male fig wasps inseminate the emerging females, and they also bore exit tunnels for the winged females to exit in the fig. Females then exit the fig to collect pollen from male flowers, and the whole process starts all over again!
But this bears the question: does this mean that there are dead male fig wasps in every fig that I’ve ever eaten? The answer is technically yes, but before you freak out, know this:
Fig trees are so inextricably linked to the fig wasp, that they actually produce a chemical called ficin. Ficin is a special enzyme that specifically breaks down the male figs body and turns it into proteins, which then provides nutrients for the fruit itself. How alien is that?
Another integral symbiotic relationship that the bat fig tree is in, is with the amazon fruit bat. This is a very important relationship, as these pteropodid bats eat the fruit of the tree, and help with seed dispersal. Not only that, the journey that the seeds take through the animal’s digestive tract help with seed germination as well.
The way in which this bat species disperses these seeds is integral to the development of a fig forest, in which they are dropped in their respective parent tree to start out their epiphytal phase. These are expert seed dispersers, which in turn, is crucial to amazon fruit bat’s survival.
What are Some Other Fig Species?
The Strangler Fig Tree (Ficus Aurea)
The strangler fig tree also goes by the names of the Florida strangler fig, and the golden fig tree. This fig species in native to Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Panama.
These are large trees, usually obtaining heights of 30 meters or more, and also have a symbiotic relationship with fig wasps. These trees are also known for their development of aerial roots that eventually strangle and kill the host tree that this ficus species start their life out developing in.
The Curtain Fig Tree (Ficus Microcarpa)
The curtain fig tree is also known as the Chinese Banyan tree, the Malayan Banyan tree, the Indian laurel, or the gajumaru tree. These trees are native to warm climates in China and Australia.
This is a medium to large sized fig species, reaching heights between 25 and 30 meters. They are a very popular ornamental tree, and they are also very valuable shade trees as well.
The Sacred Fig Tree (Ficus Religiosa)
The sacred fig tree is native to Indian subcontinent, and it is commonly referred to there as the Bodhi tree, the pippala tree, the peepul tree, or the ashwattha tree.
This tree gets the name “sacred fig” because it is believed that Gautama Buddha achieved his state of enlightenment underneath a ficus religiosa tree. This event earned this tree the honor of being the state tree for both Odisha and Haryana.
Sacred fig trees are large trees, reaching heights of around 30 meters, and are a semi-deciduous tree – meaning that they shed their leaves in dry seasons.
The Common Fig Tree (Ficus Carica)
Common fig trees are native to western Asia and the Mediterranean. These are very popular ornamental plants, but are most known for their valuable fruit.
Common fig trees have been cultivated for their delicious fruit since ancient times, and account for nearly all of the fig fruit that we are able to access today!
These are more like large shrubs than trees, only obtaining heights of 7-10 meters. They are also unlike other fig species in that they have smooth bark that is almost white in color.
Where do Bat Fig Trees Grow?
Bat fig trees are native to central, eastern, and souther Peninsular India, as well as Sri Lanka and the Maldives. This is an endemic species, meaning that they have never been recorded elsewhere in the world.
These are tolerant to many different climates, and are usually found as subcanopy trees in an evergreen or deciduous tropical forest. They will only grow at altitudes up to 1000 meters above sea level.
What are the Growing Conditions of Bat Fig Trees?
Bat figs are tolerant of many different soil types, but prefer to grow in light soils that are well drained.
The bat fig tree is very shade tolerant, as it is a subcanopy tree and usually exists underneath taller trees. They are also sun tolerant, as they are commonly used as shade trees for less sun tolerant tree species.
Bat fig trees prefer to exist in areas that receive moderate annual precipitation, and higher levels of humidity and soil moistness.
Bat fig trees can grow in regions with an average annual temperature ranging between 77 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
How are Bat Fig Trees Used?
Bat fig trees are very commonly cultivated a shade trees on coffee plantations. Coffee plants are much less sun tolerant, and require dense crown foliage to help shade their delicate leaves.
They also make for popular street trees and can be found planted on avenues, road verges, in parks, and along boundaries of agricultural fields. These trees are also ornamental plants for property owners and can be kept as a houseplant, or as a bonsai specimen as well.
Bat fig tree wood is quite dense and hard, making it ideal for wood burning. The wood has a high heat capacity and burns for a long time, making it a prime choice as fuelwood in the trees’ native regions. The trees’ bark is also very hard and fibrous and is often used to make ropes, bags, and other textile-like materials.
Various parts of the bat fig tree have been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine. The bark has natural anti-diabetic and anti-oxidant properties that can be used both topically and taken internally as well. Leaves contain phenol which has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps for topical wound healing purposes.