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Products > Ficus auriculata
Ficus auriculata - Roxburgh Fig
Image of Ficus auriculata
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Tree
Family: Moraceae (Mulberrys)
Origin: India (Asia)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Insignificant
Bloomtime: Not Significant
Synonyms: [Ficus roxburghii]
Height: 15-20 feet
Width: 15-25 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Deer Tolerant: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30° F
Ficus auriculata (Roxburgh Fig) - An evergreen to semi-deciduous, spreading, large shrub or small tree reaching 25 feet tall and as wide with large oval leaves that can be as large as 15 inches in diameter. The new growth is a deep coppery-red color that matures to light green. Large, rounded figs to 3 inches wide by 1 inch tall form in clusters on the trunk and larger branches (cauliflorous) and remain on the plant for extended periods.

Best planted in full sun in a wind protected area and watered deeply but infrequently. It is cold hardy to short duration temperatures down to about 25 degrees F. Our large tree in the nursery froze back to hard wood in the devastating freeze of 1990 when temperatures dropped in our location to 18°F. Likely we would have lost this plant, but it was adjacent to our heated greenhouse where it received some protection from its proximity to this structure.

Ficus auriculata has an extensive range from India east to Nepal, China, and Southeast Asia where its figs are considered edible and quite delicious. The fruit is eaten fresh or added to pineapple juice for a refreshing drink. The genus name Ficus comes from the ancient Latin name for figs and their edible fruit, and the specific epithet comes from the Latin word 'auricular', a diminutive of 'auris' meaning "the ear" in reference to the large, rounded lobes of the leaves that resemble an ear.

In California it has been our observation that the fruit on most plants remains fairly dry, pithy, and quite inedible. The famous American botanist David Fairchild (1869-1954) for whom the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was named wrote in 1927 about a Ficus auriculata (then F. roxburghii) that he had seen at the Oratava on Tenerife in the Canary Islands and also later at the Alligator Farm in Florida in The Journal of Heredity. He noted that Don Juan Bolinaga, the Director of the botanic garden had told him that one needed to fertilize or at least “stimulate” the flowers on the inside of the developing fruit to make it ripen and become edible. Later Fairchild wrote in the Florida State Horticultural Journal of 1944 that he attempted repeatedly to do this without success and later determined that without a particular wasp, a species of Blastophaga, that naturally pollinates this plant, the fruit would remain inedible. Others note however that some plants seem to produce juicy fruits while others do not and in our area, there is one lone tree on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara that produces such fruit while two others nearby do not. Through correspondence in 2012 with Stephen Brady at the Naples Botanical Garden we learned that the same situation occurred in Florida with most trees there not having edible fruit except for one at David Fairchild's home, The Kampong (now part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden). Craig Morell, then director of The Kampong, visited our nursery in 2018 and he confirmed that they had such a plant that has fruit with a flavor reminiscent of strawberry jam and seems to ripen off successive fruits as they get to a certain size. He also noted that none of the fruits show the gall-like structure within to indicate successful pollination.

Ficus auriculata, under the name as Ficus roxburghii that was the current name of the plant at that time, was an introduction into California by the Italian born botanist Francesco Franceschi (AKA Emanuele Orazio Fenzi) at his Santa Barbara nursery. Peter Riedel in his Plants for Extra-tropical Regions, published in 1957 three years after Riedel's death, documents this introduction in 1909 by Franceschi with a subsequent introduction by the US Bureau of Plant Industry (USDA) in 1928 (BPI-#76755-1928). There was not a comparison made of the two accessions. Riedel further noted that there was a large tree on the grounds of UCLA in 1935. We have grown and sold this tree since 1981 from cuttings originally taken from a plant growing in Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden in downtown Santa Barbara. 

This information about Ficus auriculata displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.