Ficus craterostoma Warb. ex Mildbr. & Burret

Family: Moraceae

Common names: forest fig, forest strangler-fig, blunt-leaved forest fig, bastard Natal fig (Eng.); bosvy, wurgvy, stomblaarbosvy, bostouboom, basternatalvy (Afr.); intozane, uluzi, umthombe (isiXhosa), umthombe, umbombe, isihlamfane (isiZulu); moumo (Northern Sotho), muumo, muvumo, tshikululu (Tshivenda); xirhomberhombe (Xitsonga)

SA Tree No: 52

natalensis bonsai

A wild fig from the well-watered forests of southeastern and tropical Africa, with glossy, dark green foliage and a grey trunk that is sculpted and shaped by strangler roots; a handsome garden tree, container plant or bonsai.


Ficus craterostoma is a small to medium-sized, evergreen tree, 5–10 m tall, occasionally reaching 20 m, with a rounded, spreading crown. Bark is grey, sometimes mottled, smooth with fine longitudinal cracks. It has aerial roots that, in time, thicken and grow together, developing into a large, buttressed trunk. Leaves are alternate to sub-opposite, variable, small, 30–95 × 17–52 mm, broader at the apex and often blunt-tipped, glossy, hairless, dark green, with a wavy margin and are held stiffly.


Small globose to ellipsoid figs, up to 15 mm in diameter, are produced in pairs in the axils of leaves of young twigs in summer (November to March). They are often crowded at the tip, occasionally, if flowering conditions are not favourable, as a few single figs on the stem. The figs are stalkless, hairless, warty with reddish spots and ripen to yellowish red.


Distribution and habitat

Ficus craterostoma grows in moist, evergreen forest, riverine and swamp forest, coastal forest and in deep, heavily wooded mountain ravines, always in high rainfall areas. In South Africa it occurs from the Great Kei River in the Eastern Cape northwards through KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to Limpopo. It also occurs in Swaziland, western Mozambique, eastern Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, DRC, Angola, westwards to Sierra Leone and eastwards to Uganda and Tanzania.

Derivation of name and historical aspects

The name Ficus is the Latin name for ‘fig’, possibly derived from the Persian fica, or Hebrew fag. The species name craterostoma, means ‘bowl-shaped mouth’ from the Latin crater, ‘a bowl’ and the Greek stoma, meaning ‘mouth’ and refers to the shape of the opening, or mouth, of the figs.

The genus Ficus is one of 37 genera in the Moraceae, a family whose members all have milky sap, leaves that are simple or lobed (never pinnate) and a stipule that covers the growing tip. There are about 750 species in the genus Ficus, most of them, about 500 species, occur in Asia and Australia, 150 species occur in the Americas and 110 species in Africa and Madagascar. There are 48 species in southern Africa (Burrows 2003).


Ficus Nat QR-code


A fig is a flowerhead that has been turned inside-out. The fleshy outer part is the receptacle that has closed in on itself, to form a hollow sphere. There are hundreds of tiny male and female flowers on the inner surface, and can only be seen if a fig is broken open. A fig inflorescence is termed a synconium. The flowers are sealed up inside the hollow sphere, except for a tiny opening at the tip, called the ostiole. All figs are pollinated by wasps, called fig wasps. They are tiny, 1–2 mm long, and are attracted by a scent given off by the fig. The wasp enters the fig through the ostiole and lays its eggs in some of the flowers, and also pollinates some of the flowers. Once pollination is successful, the ostiole seals up. The wasp larvae feed on some of the developing seeds. When the wasps are fully developed, they mate inside the fig, the wingless males eat a hole through the fig wall, which allows the winged females to escape, and start the whole process again. Once the female wasps have left the fig, the seeds ripen and the fruit matures and attracts fruit-eating birds and bats, and monkeys, which eat the figs and disperse the seeds in their droppings. Mammals that can’t climb or fly, such as antelope, eat the dropped figs, and squirrels and rodents eat the seeds in the figs. What is remarkable about figs is that each species of fig has a particular species of fig wasp that pollinates it. The relationship between the fig and its fig wasp, is an example of mutualism, because both parties benefit. Figs are only pollinated by the wasp and the wasp only reproduces in the figs. In southern and eastern Africa, Ficus craterostoma is pollinated by Alfonsiella pipithiensis and in central Africa, it is A. michaloudi. At Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, these wasps do not occur, so the figs on the Ficus craterostoma specimens in the Garden remain unpollinated and no seeds, or ripe fruits, are produced.