Hiding in plain sight, Ficus desertorum (Moraceae), a new species of rock fig for Central Australia





Central Australia, rock figs, Ficus, systematics, taxonomy, ethnobotany


A new species of lithophytic fig, Ficus desertorum B.C.Wilde & R.L.Barrett, endemic to arid Central Australia, is described and illustrated. It is distinguished from other species in Ficus section Malvanthera Corner by having stiff lanceolate, dark green, discolorous leaves; many parallel, often obscure lateral veins; petioles that are continuous with the midrib; with minute, usually white hairs and non- or slightly sunken intercostal regions on the lower surface. Previously included under broad concepts of either Ficus platypoda (Miq.) Miq. or Ficus brachypoda (Miq.) Miq., this species has a scattered distribution throughout Central Australia on rocky outcrops, jump-ups (mesas) and around waterholes. This culturally significant plant, colloquially referred to as the desert fig, grows on elevated landscapes in central Australia, including Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles), three of Central Australia’s best-known natural landmarks. Evidence is provided to show these plants are geographically and morphologically distinct from Ficus brachypoda, justifying the recognition of F. desertorum as a new species. Taxonomic issues with F. brachypoda and F. atricha D.J.Dixon are also discussed. Lectotypes are selected for Urostigma platypodum forma glabrior Miq. and Ficus platypoda var. minor Benth.

Author Biography

Brendan C Wilde, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

National Herbarium of New South Wales