The tree is found from Cape Verde and Senegambia across tropical West Africa to Cameroon and the Central African Republic; eastwards to Eritrea, northern Somalia and Yemen; and southwards through all tropical eastern and southern African countries. It is not found in Lesotho or the dry interior regions of Botswana, Namibia, or South Africa.
It is found in tropical forests and grassy woodlands, and occurs in higher densities within well-watered, temperate upland habitats. It is absent or outnumbered at lower, warmer climates by the similarly cauliflorous species, Ficus sycomorus. In cooler climates it is a coastal tree, and in warmer interior climates may be found up to 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) in elevation.
Over its extensive range it is variable with respect to leaf shape, texture of the leaves and figs, deciduousness and overall size.
Ficus sur is a fast-growing, deciduous or evergreen tree. It usually grows from 5–12 metres (16–39 ft) in height, but may attain a height of 35–40 metres (115–131 ft). Large specimens develop a massive spreading crown, fluted trunks, and buttress roots.
The large, alternate and spirally arranged leaves are ovate to elliptic with irregularly serrated margins. Fresh foliage is a conspicuous red colour and the papery, 1 cm long stipules are soon dropped. The bark of younger trees is smooth and pale greyish-white in colour, in contrast to the flaky, yellow bark of F. sycomorus. With increasing age the bark becomes darker and rough.
The figs are carried on short or long drooping spurs (or fascicles) which may emerge from surface roots, the trunk or especially from lower main branches. The figs are 2 to 4 cm in diameter and acquire a rosy, speckled exterior when ripe.
Lepidopteran larvae of the African map butterfly, fig tree moth, accented hawk moth, specious tiger, common fig-tree blue and lesser fig-tree blue feed on the leaves or roots of this species.
Pollination is performed by three species of Ceratosolen wasp. The Ceratosolen wasps are parasitised by Apocrypta guineensis and Sycoscapter niger wasps during their larval development inside the flower galls. As of 2006, 19 species of fig wasp were known to associate with the Cape fig, these belonging to genera Acophila, Apocrypta, Apocryptophagus, Ceratosolen, Eukoebelea, Idarnes, Sycomacophila, Sycophaga, Sycophila, Sycoscapter and Watshamiella. The Afrotropical fig wasp fauna is however poorly known.
The wood is light and soft, and is not much used commercially.
Traditional medicinal plant
All parts may exude a latex, which has some traditional medicinal plant uses. The latex has been shown to contain ursene and oleanane triterpenoids, of which the latter may be effective in cancer treatment, while a methanolic extract from the roots is potentially effective against chloroquine-resistant malaria.
- Berg, C.C. (1991). "Moraceae: Ficus sur Forssk.". Flora Zambesiaca. 9 (6). Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- "Ficus sur Forssk., Synonyms". ThePlantList. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- "Ficus sur Forssk.". African Plant Database. CJB & SANBI. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- Palgrave, K.C. (1984). Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik. p. 105. ISBN 0-86977-081-0.
- "Ficus sur Forssk.". Flora of Zimbabwe. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Von Breitenbach, F. (1985). Southern Cape Tree Guide. Pretoria: Dept. of Environment Affairs: Forestry. ISBN 0-621-09741-1.
- Hankey, Andrew (2003). "Ficus sur". Plants of SA. plantzafrica.com. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Van Noort; et al. "Ficus sur Forsskål 1775". Figweb. iziko museums. Archived from the original on 25 January 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Goff, Roy. "Naroma varipes, (Walker, 1865)". African Moths. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- Van Noort; et al. "Ceratosolen capensis Grandi". Figweb. iziko museums. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- Van Noort, Simon; Van Harten, Antonius (2006-12-18). "The species richness of fig wasps (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea: Agaonidae, Pteromalidae) in Yemen". Fauna of Arabia (22): 449–472. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- Feleke, Sisay; Brehane, Abeba (2005). "Triterpene compounds from the latex of Ficus sur I.". Bull. Chem. Soc. Ethiop. 19 (2): 307–310. ISSN 1011-3924.
- Lansky, E.P., Paavilainen, H.M. (2011). Figs: The Genus Ficus. CRC Press. pp. 222, 230, 298. ISBN 978-1-4200-8967-7.
- The presence of two stamens per flower, rather than one, was found to be an inconsistent characteristic, see: Aweke, Getachew (1979). "A Revision of the Genus Ficus in Ethiopia". Meded. Landb. Wag. 793 (66).
- A subtropical form with shaggy figs that ranges from Tanzania to northern South Africa, cf. Berg, C.C. (1991) and Palmer, Eve (1977). A Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa. London, Johannesburg: Collins. pp. 91–92. ISBN 0-620-05468-9.
- The etymology of the specific name is unclear. It may be of Arabic origin and suggest Sur, Oman, where it is not native.
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