Who gives a fig

COLIN NICHOL is lost among the leaves

FICUS macrophylla or ficus rubiginosa, that is the question, a question that may be worth testing as Fremantle council is about to spend $45,500 on relocating it.

It’s more than what’s in a name, it’s what that name represents.

Is the “mature Moreton Bay fig” currently sedately resident on Ord Street, painstakingly selected by Fremantle council to replace the recently removed 130 year-old “Christmas Tree” one in Kings Square, exactly that, or only similar?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a fig tree. Perhaps it’s another case of “saying so will make it so”. Perhaps no one gives a ficus. Moreton Bay is commonly used as a general name anyway.

This has been a difficult matter for council and preparations on the tree to be transplanted, scheduled for earlier this year, are running late.

Its new location has been prepared, several metres closer to Queen Street than the original.

The city set out to “find a suitable tree based on criteria such as its size, health, shape and ability to be transported.”

That could describe many trees, but the one pictured on the council web sites is clearly designated as Moreton Bay, a macrophylla, as was the original. Does the replacement look the same?

Then there is the rubiginosa or Port Jackson, also known as the little-leaved Moreton Bay fig, both also called banyan trees.

Look up “Under the Banyan Tree”, an old novelty song.


Frequently used as a street tree, it’s not the same as a typical Moreton Bay but would certainly be a good choice, probably best for the job, and relatively less aggressive.

Figs in the square have been particularly unlucky, several have departed.

By contrast the Proclamation Tree, a Moreton Bay, has not had similar health troubles and has been flourishing since 21 October 1890.

“Where is it?” you may ask.

Yes, it has been taken for granted, but you may well have passed it many times, on a traffic island at the intersection of Adelaide, Parry, Quarry, and Queen Victoria Streets, opposite the Fremantle Education Centre. Perhaps it has benefitted from isolation.

Back to the Square, a brain-teaser: when is a tree not a tree? When it’s a nuisance and health concern; the square has recently gained more of those common, only seasonally attractive plane trees.

An easy answer for streets and car parks, they’ve popped up to replace removed figs.

They’re not kind to buildings and their allergenic shedding will not be welcomed by those affected and especially at the proposed children’s playground in the square. Some councils around the country are considering removing them.

Where were we? Oh yes, ficus macrophylla, rubiginosa, Moreton Bay, Port Jackson, banyan, variety of Moreton Bay, little-leaved Moreton Bay – which is your verdict on the chosen fig? You can talk to those trees but they won’t give you an answer – you decide. These varieties are often confused, now aren’t we all?

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