November 22, 2017

Caroline’s Garden Diaries 26.2.2014: Giving a fig

I’ve always noticed the fig trees growing along the streets and in the parks of Sydney but it was only recently that I came actually to like them. At first I had no idea what they were, they’re so different from figs in Europe. We used to have a fig just outside the back door of our first house, with beautiful leaves traditionally shaped for adorning oneself when necessary, but I didn’t like figs to eat. Only in 1980 waiting on a roadside in Yugoslavia did I discover how heavenly is a ripe fig straight from the tree.

These fig trees native to Australia are something else. Yes, they’re from Ficus genus and you can eat the fruits as “bush tucker” (but beware, that means eat only when lost and starving in the bush), fruit bats love them (beware again – have you seen a fruit bat? Not someone I’d share a table with). But the leaves look nothing like the biblical ones – they’re a more normal leaf shape and not very big so wouldn’t go far in covering you. One is known as “Sandpaper Fig” – could be useful as a hairshirt…..

Up to now, it’s their size that has impressed. The older trees are massive, their trunks looking like several elephants rolled together, with spreading branches big enough to shade an entire playground. Some species have enormous buttress roots that look like walls surrounding the tree and that spread the length of cricket pitches. Added to that, they have long aerial roots dangling down that look as if they’ll grab you. Indeed, some figs can be “stranglers”; they develop from seeds landing on other trees, then murder their hosts by sending down aerial roots to the ground that gradually smother their host. Not nice.

My change of heart happened while walking a different route through Sydney’s Hyde Park along a double avenue of a variety called “Hill’s Figs”. The trees are typically huge but without the sinister bits, they just generously shade and refresh.

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