The White Fig

White Fig (Ficus Virens/लघुपिंपरी, पायर, पाईर) is a moderate to large sized deciduous fig with a spreading canopy. It is a beautiful shade tree wirh dense green foliage. New leafs emerge in March with colors of purple, red & bronze, giving the tree a wonderful look, very pleasing to the eye. The color transformation goes on till April. The aerial roots commonly wrap around the main stem instead of forming props.

The leaves have similar texture as that of Peepal tree and have a whitish midrib. The stipules are short, measuring less than 1 cm. The pea-sized figs appear in pairs and greenish-white to brown in colour with spots.

It is interesting to now that figs have a unique form of fertilization, each species relying on a single, highly specialized species of wasp that is itself totally dependant upon that fig species in order to breed. The tree produces three types of flower; male, a long-styled female and a short-styled female flower, often called the gall flower. All three types of flower are contained within the structure we usually think of as the fruit.

The female fig wasp enters a fig and lays its eggs on the short styled female flowers while pollinating the long styled female flowers. Wingless male fig wasps emerge first, inseminate the emerging females and then bore exit tunnels out of the fig for the winged females. Females emerge, collect pollen from the male flowers and fly off in search of figs whose female flowers are receptive. In order to support a population of its pollinator, individuals of a Ficus species must flower asynchronously. A population must exceed a critical minimum size to ensure that at any time of the year at least some plants have overlap of emission and reception of fig wasps. Without this temporal overlap the short-lived pollinator wasps will go locally extinct.

This tree is a fig belonging to the group of trees known as Strangler figs, which often begins life as an epiphyte. The seeds are dispersed by birds which tend to germinate on other trees. They grow to strangle and eventually kill the host tree, thus establishing itself as a winner.

According to Ayurveda, the tree has several medicinal properties to its name. It is known to be useful in treating cough, bronchitis, fever, headache and cold. In folk medicine it is used as a diuretic, for rheumatism of joints and muscles for gout, for bladder and kidney diseases. A decoction of the bark is used in the treatment of leucorrhoea. The herb is used for stomach complaints with hyperacidity, prophylaxis and therapy of stomach ulcers and for diarrhoea in children.

White fig is a potential agroforestry species; or rather in some parts of India, it is being used as one. The leaves are used as animal feed. The tannin and dye obtained from the bark has been used in respective industries. The tree is harvested for local use as a medicine, food and source of latex. It is sometimes cultivated as shade tree in coffee plantations. The tree is occasionally used as host tree for lac insects. The fig gives shelter to many birds, insects and arboreal mammals. The leaves are eaten boiled as a vegetable in Northern Thai curries.

White fig is also grown as an ornamental and shade tree along avenues. This tree has become popular as an avenue tree in and around the cities of New Delhi and Noida. It is suitable for plantation in parks and large gardens.

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