Monday, May 20, 2013

Important Plant Families in South Africa - Moraceae

In order to facilitate the identification of our wealth of lovely South African trees, it is helpful to be familiar with the most prominent plant families in an area as well as the characteristics that distinguish each plant family. Every month we will feature one of the most important and well represented plant families, focusing on easily recognisable features to assist identification.

Moraceae (Fig family)

The large Moraceae family is well represented in the warmer, frost free regions of South Africa, the most common genus being the Ficus with more than 35 species throughout the country. The other two genera in this family namely Morus and Bosqueia are far less common.

Although the trees in the three genera differ considerably, they are all characterised by milky latex which is exuded when a leaf or fruit is removed, alternate, simple leaves and a conspicuous conical stipule that covers the terminal leaf buds. The deciduous stipule leaves a distinctive semicircular scar on falling.

The leaves of the Ficus genus can be quite large with strong veins from the base and margins that are mostly entire.

Moraceae flowers are tiny and inconspicuous and are clustered inside complicated fleshy fruit such as the well known ‘fig’ fruit with an ostiole at the tip which is either open or closed by bracts. The fruits are borne in the axils of the leaves or on the branches or trunk, occasionally in bunches.

Economically, the most important members of this family are Ficus carica, which originated in Asia minor and has been grown for it’s fruit since early times and Morus nigra, the common black mulberry. Another well known edible fruit from this family is the Jackfruit (Artocarpus) while Chlorophora yields good timber. A number of Ficus species such as the rubber plant (Ficus Elastica) and the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) are grown as ornamental container plants.

Examples of Moraceae include Morus mesozygia (African mulberry), Trilepisium madagascariense (False fig), Ficus sur (Broom cluster fig), Ficus salicifolia (Wonderboom fig), Ficus abutilifolia (Large leaved rock fig) and Cardiogyne africana (African osage orange).

Classification Euphorbia family

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