Trees, Shrubs, and Palms of Panama

Trees, Shrubs, and Palms of Panama

Ficus insipida Willd.

Family: Moraceae

Common names: fig, higuera

Photo: R. Pérez

Description: A large tree with big plank buttresses. The trunk is smooth and gray brown, and the buttresses have rounded tops that are characteristic. Leaves are bright, shiny green, with yellow veins. The tip of a branch has a long, yellow, pointed stipule, which falls as the branch grows past it; this leaves a circular scar on the branch at the base of each leaf. Broken leaves drip white latex rapidly. On the ground beneath large trees are typically bright yellow fallen leaves.

photos: leaf-fruit... leaf-fruit... leaf-fruit... fruit... fruit... trunk... leaf... venation...

drawings: leaf-fruit...

scans: leaf...

Drawing: R. Pérez

Flowers and fruits: Flowers and fruits look the same in figs, since the flowers face inward and never open. Both are green spheres, about 1-2 cm across. Many birds and bats eat the fruits. The flowers - forever trapped inside the receptacle - are pollinated by tiny, specialized wasps, which lay eggs inside the fig. When young females hatch, they take pollen with them before leaving to lay eggs at another flower.

Distribution: Common in second growth and secondary forest, along roads, farms, throughout the area, especially on the Pacific slope from Panama City to Soberania. It is one of the characteristic trees of the secondary forest along the first part of Pipeline Rd. and around Gamboa - this is one of the few species that reaches large size within 100 years, so it is often the largest tree in all these secondary forests. Occasional as a large tree in old-growth forest at Barro Colorado and Soberania, but does not reproduce inside the forest; juveniles are seen only in open areas.

How to recognize: On big trees, the combination of large, smooth buttresses, and bright green leaves with yellow veins, make this tree pretty easy to recognize. Check for yellow leaves and the long yellow stipules on the ground to confirm identification of big trees in the forest. There is a second large fig species at Barro Colorado and on the Caribbean side, Ficus yoponensis, which is very similar, but has smaller leaves (usually < 10 cm long) and stipules (usually < 5 cm long) than insipida; yoponensis does not occur abundantly in secondary forest the way insipida does. As juveniles, circular scars at the base of each leaf, copious white latex, and pointed stipules pin down the fig genus (Ficus); the large, bright, shiny leaves of insipida are not found in other figs (there are many figs in the area, mostly stranglers). See the unrelated Sapium glandulosum, which has fig-like leaves.