The Ficus racemosa or, as it is commonly known, the cluster fig tree can be found growing throughout the Kehje Sewen Forest in East Kalimantan.
The Ficus racemosa grows in lowland, tropical forests where it is found most commonly along sources of water. This tall tree has a significant role in the forest, as it provides canopy cover for young plants and both a home and a buffet for forest animals.
The fruit of the Ficus racemosa is in fact not a true fruit; it is a flower that enlarges at the base and then closes to form a fruit-like sphere. The stigma of the flower is encased and can only be pollinated by specific insects.
In the Kehje Sewen Forest, Ficus racemosa trees are usually found growing around the banks of rivers. The trees will bear fruit throughout the year when in sufficiently humid areas, however, during drier times, they may lose their leaves!
Our Post-Release Monitoring (PRM) team from Camp Nles Mamse frequently sees the flowers or fruits of this tree whilst out on forest patrols. Curious, our team members recently decided to eat some to see what it tasted like. They found that the fruit was rather bland, like other forest figs they had tasted before. No wonder orangutans don't particularly like eating them!
In other parts of the world, however, this fruit is pickled for human consumption and can aid in the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhoids, and the healing of wounds. The tree has strong and widespread roots, making it useful in maintaining soil stability to prevent landslides in sloping areas.
The various uses of this tree species make us appreciate its existence even more. While the Ficus racemosa is indeed a common tree found throughout the forest, we must still ensure its protection. After all, it does have its own special purpose and charm!