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Orchard Trees - Figs

( Originally Published 1927 )

The genus ficus belongs to all tropical countries, and this remarkable range accounts for the sit hundred different species botanists have identified. The rubber plant, popular in this country as a pot and tub plant, is one of the best-known species. In its East Indian forest home it is the "Assam Rubber Tree." It may begin life as an air plant, fixing its roots in the crotch of another tree, in which a chance seed has lodged. A shock of a๋rial roots strikes downward and reaches the ground. After this the tree depends upon food drawn from the earth. The sup-porting host tree is no longer needed. The young rubber tree has by this time a trunk stiff enough to stand alone.

Assam rubber, which ranks in the market with the best Brazilian crude rubber, comes from the sap of this wild fig tree, Ficus elasticus. Clip off a twig of your leathery-leaved rubber plant and note the sticky white sap that exudes. In the highest priced automobile tires you find the manufactured product.

Dried figs have always been an important commercial fruit. These imported figs are from trees that are horticultural varieties of a wild Asiatic species, Ficus Carica. Smyrna figs are best for drying. They form a delicious, wholesome sweet, which has high food value and is more wholesome than candy for children. Tons of this dried fruit are imported each year from the countries east of the Mediterranean Sea. Now California is growing Smyrna figs successfully.

The banyan tree of India is famous, striking its a๋rial rootlets downward until they reach the ground and take root, and thus help support the giant, horizontal limbs. These amazing trees, members of the genus ficus, some-times extend to cover an acre or more of ground. To walk under one is like entering the darkness of a forest of young trees, By the clearing away of most of these aerial branches, a great arbor is made for the comfort of people in regions where the sun's rays are overpowering in the middle of the day.

Our own fig trees in North America are but sprawling parasitic trees, unable to stand alone. They are found only in the south of Florida, and therefore are generally unknown.

The Golden Fig

Ficus aurea, Nutt.

The golden fig climbs up other trees and strangles its host with its coiling stems and aerial roots. One far-famed specimen has grown and spread like a banyan tree, its trunk and head supported by secondary stems that have struck downward from the branches. Smooth as a beech in bark, crowned with glossy, beautiful foliage, like the rubber plants, this parasitic fig is a splendid tropical tree, but the host that supports all this luxuriance is sacrificed utterly. The little yellow figs that snuggle in the axils of the leaves turn purple, sweet, and juicy as they ripen. They are sometimes used in making preserves. An interesting characteristic of the wood of the golden fig is its wonderful lightness. Bulk for bulk, it is only one fourth as heavy as water.

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