During their ecotourism vacation, travelers will of course be hoping for spectacular sightings of major Amazon rainforest fauna. But as part of our conservation-based activities, we also encourage our eco-lodge guests to look at the trees among which elusive rainforest animals live and find shelter.
Those visitors who travel to the Amazon basin and who look up at the tropical forest canopy as they walk our forest trails will soon begin to realize that the thousands of trees surrounding them, and which at first all seemed to look the same, are in fact incredibly diverse.
Among the Amazon’s big trees, one species visitors are sure to see –if only at first with the help of their experienced naturalist guide- is the wild fig (Ficus insipida). Like other tall Amazon trees, the wild fig rests on splayed buttress roots that keep it upright in the thin soils of the rainforest. These massive roots support a tree that can grow between 8 to 40 meters in height (26 to 130 feet), making it one of the largest trees in the forest. A non-climbing fig, the trunk of the wild fig is uniform and straight, its fluted form soaring skyward from its buttressed base, up into the crown formed by its foliage. Its glossy, dark-green leaves are ellipse-shaped, measuring between 5 and 25 centimeters in length (2 to 10 inches) and 2 to 11 centimeters (0.80 to 4 inches) wide. The leaves turn bright yellow when they fall from the tree. The marked habitat preference of this species means it is usually found growing in association with watercourses.
The wild fig was given its scientific name –which translates literally as “insipid fig”- in 1806 by the German naturalist Carl Ludwig Willdenow, following his time spent in South America during the final decade of the 18th century. As a key rainforest species, it can be found all the way from southern Mexico, through Central and South America, as far south as Peru and Bolivia. Commonly found in primary forest, as a so-called pioneer species it is also abundant in secondary growth forest, which it is able to dominate thanks to its ability to grow more than 100 feet tall (over 30 meters) in less than a century.
In fact, the fruits of this great tree are anything but “insipid”. The large, sweet figs produced by Ficus insipida are clearly considered delicious by a variety of rainforest fauna! Unlike many other rainforest fruit trees, individual Ficus insipida produce their abundant fruits in a staggered fashion. This means that at any time of year there will be a wild fig tree flowering or producing fruit somewhere in any given area of forest. This absence of seasonality is great news for rainforest fauna, which outside the usual rainy season fruiting season of many other trees, can find themselves searching long and hard for a meal. The fact that individual Ficus insipida trees flower at different times also forces their wasp pollinators to travel between different trees, thereby encouraging cross pollination.
The fauna known to feed on the figs produced by Ficus insipida include howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and bats. In addition, its habit of growing along watercourses means that some species of fish also feed on fallen fruits, thereby contributing to seed dispersal.