Ficus burkei

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Botanical Name
Ficus burkei
Moraceae - The fig and mulberry family.
FY-kus BURK-ee-eye
Common Name(s)
English: Common Wild Fig; Strangler Fig; Burkes Wild Fig
Afrikaans: Gewone Wildevy; Wurgvy
IsiZulu: Umbombe; Umthombe
IsiXhosa: Uluzi; Umthombe
Setswana: Mmadintana; Moomo; Moumo; Muomo ; and
Sesotho sa Leboa: Moumo
Tshivenda: Muumo
IsiNdebele: Intenjane; Umtende
Plant Group
  • Tree A woody, self-supporting perennial plant usually with a single main stem and generally growing more than 6 meters tall.
Plant Size
  • Medium to Large
    Tree15m to 20m
    Shrub2m to 3m
    Perennial/ground cover60cm to 75cm
    Bulb60cm to 1m
    Succulent60cm to 1m
  • Medium
    Tree10m to 16m
    Shrub1m to 2m
    Perennial/ground cover40cm to 60cm
    Bulb40cm to 60cm
    Succulent40cm to 60cm
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Attractive fruits, berries or seeds Brightly coloured fruits or berries increase and extend the visual impact of the plant and are especially attractive to birds and other small wildlife.
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate The plant is moderately adapted to arid conditions and can survive short periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Evergreen to semi-deciduous The plant is evergreen in warmer, wetter parts of the country, but may lose some of its leaves during winter in colder, drier situations.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Roots Invasive Do not plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Water Loving Plants need a regular supply of water and must not be allowed to dry out for any length of time.
  • Water Moderate These plants will need some extra watering compared to water-wise plants. Plant them together, in at least some shade and in a convenient proximity to the house so that grey water can be utilised during times of drought.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
Specific Information

Ficus burkei is a medium to large sized tree of 15 - 18 meters with a well-shaped spreading crown that can be twice as wide as it is tall. The mid- to dark green leaves are leathery, fairly stiff, usually hairless, elliptic in shape and vary in length from 3 to 12 cm long. The bark is pale to dark grey and smooth but gets rougher as the tree ages. Both the bark and leaves contain a white sticky latex. The tree is evergreen in wetter habitats but may be briefly deciduous in drier climates.

The tree often starts as a strangler, germinating in the fork of another tree and sending aerial roots to the ground, eventually strangling the host tree. The tree is also known to be a 'rock splitter', germinating in the crack of a boulder which it splits apart as the tree grows.

Ficus burkei​ has adapted well outside its natural distribution range, into the eastern and northern parts of South Africa where it is often planted as a shade tree on farms.

The tree provides deep shade and attracts a wide variety of birds 'en mass' when in full fruiting. The fruit is also eaten by humans, bats, and a number of smaller mammals.

Ficus burkei is closely related to Ficus thoningii, which is very similar to, but not the same as, Ficus burkei. It was made synonymous with Ficus thoningii in 1990 but was re-instated as a valid species in 2003, leading to a great deal of confusion.

For fascinating information about wasp pollinators and various species of the fig family, visit:  http:/

Warning: The white, sticky sap of the fig family may cause a rash. Sensitive individuals may develop dermatitis after contact with the sap. An amusingly written article at, will provide more details.

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As with all figs, the flowers are found within the fruit.  Figs grow singly or in pairs and very occasionally on bare twigs. They are almost round in shape, 10-20 mm in diameter, densely hairy to almost hairless, yellowish or infrequently pink when ripe. 

  • Summer to Winter Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
Growth Rate
  • Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Suitable for bonsai A shrub or tree that lends itself to being dwarfed.
Distribution and Habitat

in South Africa from the Eastern Cape, north to KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West Province, as well as in Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi,  Kenya, Tanzania, south eastern DRC and Uganda, in wet or dry forest, Savanna woodland and on rocky hillsides, up to an altitude of 1800 meters

Planting Suggestions

Ficus burkei​ is tolerant of most soil types, so plant into any suitable site, but keep moist while young. Grows well in full sun as well as shade.  To grow from seed, dry the opened fig and then scatter seed, or lightly cover dry fig.

Do not plant close to buildings, sewer pipes or swimming pools as the roots are highly invasive – as are the roots of most fig species. The fruits ooze latex when broken off, so it is not suitable for car parks and avoid planting over fish ponds as the latex clogs the gills of the fish.

The old method of digging a deep hole and filling it with soil and compost has resulted in many trees failing to thrive, dying, rotting at the base or worse still, falling over in later years due to poor root development.  Refer to the following sites for the best method of planting trees: Planting a tree

International Society of Arboriculture: New Tree Planting

Tree People: Plant the right way

For those of you who have a clay problem try:

Rod's Garden: Planting in clay soil

Medicinal Uses

The strong latex was used to catch birds and the soft wood was a popular choice for fire-sticks.

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