METRO PLUS

Fascinating figs

GOOD AND BAD The green fruits are edible unlike the ripe fruits, which are unfit for human consumption

GOOD AND BAD The green fruits are edible unlike the ripe fruits, which are unfit for human consumption  

The leaves, bark and fruits of the cluster fig are used in the treatment of mumps and chicken pox

The cluster fig belongs to the genus Ficus, which includes the figs, the banyan and the peepul. Known as `atthi' in Tamil and native to India, Ficus glomerata belongs to the family Moraceae. Glomerata refers to the clustered fruits produced on the tree trunk and branches. F. glomerata is a large, spreading shade tree with a smooth and straight trunk that becomes gnarled with age. Unlike the banyan, it has no aerial roots. The receptacles are produced in great profusion, globose or pyriform, with a short stalk and are borne on short, leafless, scaly branches, emerging from the trunk and major branches. They are reddish when ripe, infested with maggots of the fertilising wasp and unfit for human consumption. However, the unripe fruit is used in curries. The first fruiting season is March-April and, the second season is July-August. Male and female flowers are produced in the same receptacle, albeit at various times - the female flowers being produced first.The figs are borne in clusters on short stems that grow directly from the tree trunk. Each fig has a tiny hole, an entrance just large enough for the female gall wasp, full of eggs, to enter. As she squeezes through the entrance, she loses both her wings and is unable to leave the fig. She then deposits pollen that she has inadvertently carried and lays her eggs in the stigma of the flowers. Later, she dies, and the hole in the fig wall closes. After a few days, the young male wasps, which develop faster than females, hatch and chew open the eggs of the females and mate with them. The males then chew a hole in the wall of the fruit and die eventually. On the way out, the winged females now tagged with pollen and full of eggs, can only make one flight with their delicate wings. In that one flight, the female must not only find the right species of fig, but one in the right stage of development. If she fails, she will not have the strength to make another flight. On the other hand, if she happens to land upon the correct species with the right characteristics, she will re-enact the process of her mother, ensuring another generation of wasps and hence, another generation of Ficus.The extract of the fruit is used as a poultice to relieve inflammation of skin, wounds and sprains. This fig species is a very important food tree for many birds and mammals. The leaves are used as fodder for cattle and elephants and have good mulching properties. In folk medicine, the leaves, the bark and the fruits are used in the treatment of mumps and in preventing `pitting' of the skin in chicken pox.

RIDLING WALLER AND PAULINE DEBORAH

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