Amanda ComminsQuest for a Moreton Bay fig

I love Moreton Bay fig trees. From the overall shape and spread, to the magnificent buttress roots that they form and the shade they provide, I think they are a stunning feature in the parks and gardens that have the room for them. About 2 years ago we decided that we would like to grow a Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla). We had the land to do it (40 acres) and hoped to see its first 40 years or so.

The four figs came well-packaged from Daleys Nursery

Sourcing a seedling
So, where to get hold of a seedling in Perth and surrounds? First we tried various nurseries but, probably not surprising for suburban Perth, no luck. Next we tried asking for help from a variety of places including those with mature Moreton Bay figs – a variety of councils (city and country), Kings Park and the University of Western Australia but still no seedling. We also tried one of the advanced tree nurseries but the cost of an advanced tree, the logistics involved (and a bit of uncertainty on our behalf as to the fig variety) proved prohibitive for us. After exhausting our WA search, we started looking for interstate options and finally found that Daleys Fruit Tree Nursery in Kyogle, NSW had plants that could be sent to WA. Hooray – success!

Figs as they arrived from Daley's Nursery

Figs as they arrived from Daley’s Nursery

Seedling delivery
I completed our order on line and our beautifully packaged, healthy plants arrived by courier around mid March 2014. I say ‘plants’ because somehow in the excitement of finding the website and perhaps getting carried away, I managed to order not just one Moreton Bay fig, but four!

The four figs in mega tubes (90mm square x 150mm deep) arrived in one box with an overall height of 90cms. Although probably not ideal, they stayed in these pots for about a month before we planted them out into 250mm pots with a good quality general potting mix.

Planting out
The property is about 100kms north of Perth with both sandy hills and river flats. We can experience frosts over winter so we decided not to plant the figs out until spring. In mid September we took the plants from Perth to the property and planted them on the river flats (but still quite a way from the river). Despite all the figs being planted on the river flats, the soil conditions of the planting holes were quite different. One was quite sandy, two were quite nice and rich and one was somewhere in between. After a bit of debate we decided not to improve the soil but we did use a wetting agent as our soils are generally very hydrophobic.

Preparing planting holes

Preparing planting holes

Progress since planting
In the time since the figs were planted we have had a total of 108mm of rain (none in December or January), and we have been deep watering the plants once every week over summer with bore water. So far, so good we think. They haven’t grown significantly – they range in height from 750mm to 950mm – but they look healthy, have filled out and the stems are thickening, so we are taking all that as good signs.

Building tree guards to protect against inquisitive cattle and kangaroos

Building tree guards to protect against inquisitive cattle and kangaroos

We have found it quite hard to find much information about growing Moreton Bay figs. Google searches reveal many photos of magnificent 100+ year old trees but I have found it impossible to determine what our trees may look like in say 5, 10 or 20 years. Similarly, there appears to be little information on caring for a young fig. We know figs are tough but, for instance, how susceptible are they to frost etc?

There’s a beautiful Moreton Bay fig in the grounds of the University of WA and, if you believe the story, it was planted about 80 years ago when the gardener dug a hole, threw in a dead cow and planted the tree. I only had live cows so maybe that will prove to be my undoing.

One of the figs a year after planting

One of the figs a year after planting

For those who might be interested, I will be keeping records as to height and appearance changes for as long as possible. I’d like to think that in 5 to 10 years we will have nice size trees (say 3-4m or more) but would love to hear from anyone who has experience growing these magnificent trees.

Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery
For anyone in WA looking for some of the more unusual fruit trees and hard to source plants Daleys provides an excellent selection and a pain free way (in our experience) to get the plants you want. They deliver to WA every 2-3 months and deal with all the quarantine issues, which makes it very easy for the customer. In our case the costs associated with freight and quarantine came to about $30 each. Daleys very informative website can be found at http://www.daleysfruit.com.au/.

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?


Amanda Commins

About Amanda Commins

Amanda has no formal qualifications in gardening and has not authored any gardening books. However what she lacks in formal qualifications she makes up for in enthusiasm. Her interest in gardening developed during her 30s and has become a bit of an overwhelming passion. Amanda lives in Perth and is particularly interested in native and waterwise plants.

20 thoughts on “Quest for a Moreton Bay fig

  1. A lovely story, Amanda. I’m afraid I don’t have anything helpful to add, but I look forward to hearing how the figs grow. One day, when I get my 40 acres, I will be glad of your learning! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they all grow well (personally, I’d definitely be covering them for the worst of the first winter or two, but I’m a bit of a chicken).

    • Amanda Commins on said:

      Many thanks Janna. I’m with you – I will be covering them, at least for the first winter. Which brings me to another point – if anyone knows where to get frost cloth in or around Perth, please let me know as it seems to be a bit of a rarity.

  2. Catspot Quoll on said:

    Hi Amanda, so glad you found Daley’s. They are my closest nursery and I’ve watched the family company grow from tiny beginnings to the comprehensive place it is today.
    My five acre place beside rainforest had a very small Moreton Bay growing out of an old stump at the front gate. By the time I left ten years later, the tree was about 20m.
    I think the main requirement is water, though Daley’s will have expert info.
    There are many huge old specemins in this area as you would know. I feel such peace (and cool) sitting under them between the buttresses..

    Best of luck with your four – hope they all do well.

    • Amanda Commins on said:

      Hi and thanks. Wow – I’ll be very impressed if they reach 20m in 10 years, that would be fantastic.

  3. Nick on said:

    I wonder if they grow quicker when they’re strangling another tree, they could suck all the nutrients out of it and use it to get a headstart in life. I’d love to get one to a decent size and then secretly plant it somewhere and watch it over 40 years! (my block is 336sqm)

    • Hi Nick, Moreton Bay figs grow up near other trees as their seeds are spread by birds. Even strangler figs aren’t parasitic plants like mistletoe – they don’t suck any nutrients from the plant they grow around or near, they just use them as support. Strangler figs often kill their host in the end, usually by causing the trunk and branches to rot away and you can see the big hollow section inside where the supporting tree used to be.
      I like your idea of guerrilla gardening! We could use lots more dense shade trees like these wonderful monsters of the plant world and it would be a real privilege to watch one mature over several decades.

      • nwhish on said:

        Ah ok, I think I understand now.
        So in the rainforest that’s why there’s dangling thin roots everywhere? They land in a tree so they don’t get covered in leaves, but they still need to tap into the soil to kick their growth off?

        • The seed of the strangler fig starts off in the tree’s canopy. It germinates in a spot up high where it can get some sunlight and where there might be an accumulation of decaying leaves and moisture for its little roots to develop. As it grows, the roots gradually extend downwards wrapping around the host tree for support until they reach the ground, and the strangler fig then becomes more like a normal tree. A Moreton Bay fig grows up from the ground from the start. It also develops these aerial roots but they are there to support the massive weight of the large lower branches as the tree gets bigger. They often look like props coming up from the ground, holding up a long branch.

  4. Nick on said:

    If you’re ever in Brisbane, take a look at the sherwood arboretum. You have to walk over the hill towards the river and you’ll find 4-5 of the most massive ones you’ve ever seen.

  5. David on said:

    Oh Amanda
    If only someone had told you. These trees grow so easily from cuttings. Just take a few small cuttings from any tree around Perth (just tell everyone you’re giving them a trim!), trim the leaves down a bit, stick the cuttings in a pot with some good potting mix, water, and place a plastic bag over them for about a month. You should then notice some roots coming out of the bottom of the pot, at which time you remove the plastic bag, place in a semi shaded area for about a week to acclimatise to normal conditions, and then pot up to a larger pot. easy peasy! Best done in the warmer months, say Sept- Mar.
    Regards
    David

    • Amanda Commins on said:

      Hi David. Many thanks for this tip. At this stage the figs seem to be doing ok so hopefully I won’t need to strike one but good to have the information.

  6. Peter on said:

    Hi Amanda
    I picked up a couple of figs from under one of the monster figs at the Vic War Memorial. I got the seeds from the fruit, rinsed them to separate the fruit flesh from seed, then using a few pots filled with potting mix, I sprinkled the seeds on top and lightly mixed them with the soil. I placed them into one of those opaque storage bins with an inch or so of water and waited. 2-3 weeks, nothing. But a week or so more and a whole bunch of shoots have sprung up. It a little humbling to think their parent is a 100+ year old giant and a bit of a landmark.

    Happy to let you know of progress as well.

    Any advice on early seedling care would be appreciated. Should they go into larger pots or straight into the ground…. afterall thats what happens in mature.

    Thankfully we also have the space.

    Peter

    • Amanda Commins on said:

      Hi Peter

      That’s a great good news story – how exciting to get them to shoot.

      I’m well overdue to do an update on our figs and you have prompted me to get my act into gear – so should have an update shortly.

      So far as early seedling care is concerned, I’m no expert on this one but my thoughts follow. I would probably keep them in pots for a while to give them a chance to develop a bit. If you put them straight in the ground then I suppose it depends on the conditions. They might need some good protection from the elements / wildlife etc whilst they are small. Ours did suffer in the frost last winter. We haven’t had any problems with pests or diseases but I wouldn’t trust the kangaroos not to stomp on them if they had the chance.

      Good luck, and I look forward to your updates.

      Amanda

      • Ben on said:

        My brother grew some from seed and he gave me one. Im looking at doing some guerilla gardening also!!! Behind my place is a great spot on an easment between my place and a large grassy field. In an area full of houses so close that most dont have backyards. Its probaby bout 1mtr high atm in a small 25cm pot with 1 long root hanging out that i had to rip up when taking it. Im worried council will tear it out or something b4 it has a chance to grow big n tall. But i think thats wat this area needs. Big trees. So im gonna do it this arvo. Wish me luck

  7. michele on said:

    love these beautiful trees!!!

  8. Kemble Walker on said:

    Wow thanks for the great post, and also the information in the comments below. I’ve been dreaming of having some Moreton Bay figs for a while, and we’ve just gotten our first piece of land, so now’s the time!

    I will definitely try to sprout some seeds. I have some I already saved from last year, but reading your post has inspired me to get some fresh ones after the next fruit. Unfortunately the council destroys the seedlings that come up naturally. While I’ve seen them self-seed in a paddock near mount warning, nature has a harder time in the urban parks. I do have a feeling however that what we call strangler figs are simply figs that grow in precarious places. Im going to experiment by cultivating one of those in a regular location and see what happens.

    A few things I’ve noticed from observing these trees at Glebe Point (Sydney). They can fruit twice a year, and different trees fruit at different times. Between the Moreton bays and the Port Jacksons in our park here, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a tree in fruit, even in winter. Just yesterday (mid-October) I saw a port Jackson near Annandale thick and dripping with figs at the end of its month’s fruit, while one of the giant Moreton bays at the end of Glebe Point Road is still green, to fruit in December or so.

    Also, yes, these figs are very edible and in my view very delicious. When they’re ripe, they should be dark purple with sugar syrup dripping off them. They are very soft and tasty, mildly sweet. I don’t try to crunch the seeds too hard, just a little. I love the feeling, like they clean my insides. Port Jacksons are smaller and paler, a little drier but also tasty and with much smaller seeds than the Moreton bays.

    Neither fig keeps very well (they are very tender when ripe) unless you put them directly submerged in clean water. I’ve made some very pleasant drink this way, it becomes bubbly and sweet, with a most remarkable flavour, only very slightly alcoholic, and for me it kept well for six months or so without refrigeration. Still unsure of the name of this drink. Wine is for grapes, cider for apples, perry for pears, mead for honey and beer for grains, but what should we call this fig ferment?

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to planting my own Moreton bay figs. They’re such great trees to climb, with their gnarled roots. I absolutely loved them as a kid. Thanks again for the nice post.

    • Michael on said:

      How are your trees doing?

      • Amanda Commins on said:

        Hi Michael

        I’m happy to report that they are growing really well. They have had a great summer – 2 heavy falls of wonderful summer rain and a bit of humidity (all unusual for us) has set them up beautifully. I’ll post an update with photos soon.

        Thanks for your interest.

  9. Debbie on said:

    Hi, what a fantastic contribution. It is great that you are sharing this information. I too am keen to grow some Moreton Bag Figs and have found little info about the process online. In particular I am keen to know how quickly I can expect have a reasonable tree. I know that the GREAT specimens are 50 plus years old but would like to know what to expect in 5 or 10 years. Do you have any more recent photos? Thanks Debbie

    • Amanda Commins on said:

      Hi Debbie

      Many thanks for your feedback. Our figs arrived as tube stock just on 3 years ago (March 2014). It’s been a bit of an up and down journey (lack of rain, frost and lack of knowledge on my part) but I think they are now making real progress. The largest one (which was the smallest at planting) is now 1.3m tall and is looking more and more like a substantial tree all the time. I’m in the process of writing an update and will post that, with photos, soon.

Leave a Reply (no need to register)