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Search Nets Unusual Specimen for City

This article was first published on 28 Apr 2011.

Ficus dammaropsis

Ficus dammaropsis

There are around 850 species of Ficus; most are from subtropical and tropical regions.

Ficus are grown mostly for their foliage or as shade trees.  However, in New Zealand they are often found as house plants, although eventually they get far too big for the home or office.

About 5 years ago I came across a species I had not seen before, Ficus dammaropsis.  It was only a small plant with about three leaves on it, but those leaves were very dramatic, large, heavily pleated with bright red veins.  It was a show stopper and I knew straight away Dunedin Botanic Garden had to have a specimen.

But that was easier said than done.  After contacting many sub tropical nurseries to see if I could purchase one I discovered that, although they had them growing in their gardens, no one seemed to sell them or have any success in propagating one.  It is a very difficult plant to propagate and is mostly propagated by air layers but finally, after three or four years I managed to track one down.

Called the dinner plate fig, the leaves are larger than those of the average dinner plate and plants will grow into a small rounded tree, often wider then high.  It produces rounded fruit which turn deep purple when ripe.

Native to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, it can be grown outdoors in the far north. At the Botanic Garden it can be seen in the centre of the central house of the Winter Garden Glasshouse.

Stephen Bishop is curator of the Winter Garden Glasshouse at Dunedin Botanic Garden.