Botanical name

Ficus ingens

Other names

Red-leaved rock fig; rooiblaarrotsvy (Afrikaans); motlhatsa (Tswana)




Variable in form and size, semi-deciduous, from a shrub in cold winter parts of its distribution range to a medium sized tree of up to 13 m in height; very large specimens do occur, like the legendary inhabited tree (17 huts in one tree above 'the lions' reach' level) described by Robert Moffatt of Kuruman from a trip in 1829

Description of stem

Multi-branched, broad and convoluted trunks twining at its bulky base, light grey, smooth bark, the base usually hugging a rock; spreading and curving branches; if allowed by other vegetation to grow freely develops a rounded crown, but usually straggling among other bushes and trees

Description of leaves

Ovate or lanceolate, green with entire margin, apex tapering, base lobed, sometimes square, variable size around 12 cm by 5 cm; petiole 2 cm; distinctive and pronounced netveining; new leaves sprouting shortly after old leaves are lost, which happens rather briskly within a week or two; new leaves pink, coppery or bronze-red for about a week, living up to the common name before gradually turning green; leaves said to be toxic

Description of flowers


Desciption of seed/fruit

Pale yellow-green round figs of slightly more than 1 cm in diameter on stalks in leaf axils in profusion; turn purple or brown-red when they ripen over a prolonged season from winter and at least throughout summer

Description of roots

Massive rock-splitting root system that is known to reach water sources some distance from the tree


Depending on the climate as it is sometimes reduced by winter cold; some leaf form variations

Propagation and cultivation

Grown from cuttings, truncheons or seed


Mildly frost resistant apart from very young plants


Good for big gardens, keep far away from buildings as it is an accomplished rocksplitter, thus be careful of it as a foundation destroyer; good as a container plant or bonsai; figs edible, but not palatable; the bark has been used to treat cows with poor milk production

Ecological rarity

Not threatened

Pests and diseases



All parts exude a milky latex when broken; the latex or the leaves are said to cause illness in livestock that may browse it in times of drought; the figs are barely edible for humans but highly popular with many bird species; every indigenous ficus species is pollinated by 'its own' species of wasp in a mutually dependent symbiotic relationship; in the case of F. ingens the pollinator wasp is Platyscapa soraria,that has co-evolved with the tree,whilst Otitesella longicauda also use it; the male wasps apparently fight hard for mating opportunities with available females (; there are big F. ingens trees at the entrance of Makapansgat


Rocky outcrops, north facing cliffs in cold winter areas, bushveld, riverine and mountainous areas

Distribution (SA provinces)

Eastern Cape; Kwazulu-Natal; Mpumalanga; Limpopo; Gauteng; North West


South Africa; Lesotho; Mozambique; Botswana; Namibia; Zimbabwe; Zambia; Malawi and north up to Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Algeria; in West Africa across Cameroun, Nigeria, Ghana to Senegal





Ficus ingens leaves close-up; Photographed by Ricky Mauer

Ficus ingens: Photographed by Ricky Mauer