Ficus ingens is an indigenous tree that is found along the eastern region of South Africa, from the Eastern Cape to Limpopo, as well as in Gauteng, North West Province and Mpumalanga. It grows in various habitats, but prefers rocky outcrops in moist or more temperate conditions.
Although ‘ingens’ means large or enormous, the Red leaved rock fig generally grows to a height of approximately 8 m in Gauteng. Depending on the climate, the tree can attain a height of up to 13 m or even more. The crown of large specimens can spread up to 30 m under ideal conditions.
Evergreen to semi-deciduous, Ficus ingens has fairly smooth, greyish bark. In older trees the bark may display a cracked texture and all parts of the tree produce milky latex when broken. The new, young leaves are tinted an attractive coppery-red which explains the common name, Red leaved rock fig. Mature leaves are lanceolate, almost heart-shaped with a pale green colour and conspicuous yellow veins.
Small figs appear in pairs or singly from June to December. The immature pale coloured fruit ripens to a pinkish and even reddish colour peaking during the summer months. It is not unusual to find fruit on the tree throughout the year. The fruit have a soft texture when ripe and although edible, it is not very palatable. The figs attract fruit-eating birds, monkeys and bats.
The tree is hardy, drought resistant and tolerant of moderate frost conditions. It must be noted that it has a very aggressive root system and should not be planted close to building structures, paving and swimming pools. During hot, summer months the tree provides beautiful shade and in colder areas, the attractive, twisted shape of the trunk and gnarled roots are displayed during winter. Ficus ingens should ideally be planted in a large garden, where it could be a majestic, decorative focal point. At the same time, the tree will flourish as a container tree and is a popular bonsai specimen.