Sandpaper Fig gets its name from its rough, sandpaper-like leaves. Though it doesn’t sound appetising, this ancient fig tree produces a very sweet fruit that’s said to be the best tasting Australian fig. Aboriginal people traditionally used the leaves to smooth and polish weaponry, the bark to make string, and the fruit for delicious bush tucker. In the wild, Sandpaper Fig occurs mainly in eastern Queensland and New South Wales, though you may spot it on rare occasions in Victoria and the Northern Territory.
Fruits grow to about 2cm in diameter, starting out green then darkening to a purple-black colour when ripe. They can be eaten fresh (after removing the furry skin) or dried, or cooked into cakes, pies, biscuits, jellies, jams or sauces.
Like all Ficus trees, Sandpaper Fig flowers ‘outside-in’ — its flowers form on the inside of its fruiting body — and can only be fertilised by a particular family of wasp. This fig species bears its fruit on its trunk as well as on its stems: a phenomenon known as “cauliflory”. Fruits ripen from January to June and may be plucked straight off the tree or collected off the ground.
Sandpaper Fig is generally a hardy species, adapted to a range of habitats including gullies, creeks, rainforests, open country and sheltered rocky areas. It tolerates cold climates, poor soils, low light, heavy pruning and some neglect, however it is somewhat frost sensitive in its first few years. Its ideal growing conditions involve plenty of light (full sun to part shade), plenty of space and moisture, and year-round warmth. If you live in a frost-prone area, consider growing this tree indoors in a pot or atrium, or as a bonsai.
This rainforest fig is a medium-sized tree, usually growing between 6m and 12m tall with a spread of 3m to 6m in diameter. Sandpaper Fig has a smaller root system than many other fig trees, however the aggressive nature of Ficus roots means any in-ground planting should still remain 5 or more metres away from your plumbing, pathways and structural foundations. This tree’s weeping growth habit makes it an elegant ornamental tree as well as a practical shade plant or an attractive hedge.
Do I need to plant more than one Sandpaper Fig to get fruit?
Individual Sandpaper Fig plants can be dioecious (separate male and female trees) or monoecious (male and female flowers on the same tree). The Sandpaper Figs from Tucker Bush are monoecious, meaning you can get fruit from planting just one tree.
How often should I prune my Sandpaper Fig?
As often as you like, though ideally after the risk of frost has passed. Fig trees can be very tolerant of heavy pruning.
We recommend caution during pruning if you have a latex allergy, as this fig weeps a milky sap that may cause irritation. That said, Aboriginal people were known to use the latex as a painless natural treatment for warts and ringworms.
What are these brown bumps on the stems and leaves of my Sandpaper Fig?
Your Sandpaper Fig may have a scale infestation — but not to worry, although Ficus family trees can be prone to scale, they can withstand pretty heavy attacks. Infested stems and leaves may be pruned off or treated with horticultural oil. We don’t recommend using lots of fertiliser, as scale are attracted to plants fertilised with a lot of nitrogen, but it’s still all right to give your plant regular doses of organic compost and water during the fruiting season.
What’s eating the leaves of my Sandpaper Fig?
Most likely a fig leaf beetle. They don’t typically cause much damage to mature trees, but may completely strip young trees of their leaves. We recommend using a horticultural oil, Neem Oil or Eco Oil. Wait for a cool day (below 30°C) to apply, as the oil can burn leaves in hot weathers
Suitable for full-sun
Suitable for part-shade
Protect from frost
Suitable for pots
Height 6-10m (maximum in rainforest condition)
Tolerates sandy soils
Year 1 onwards
Attracts bees & insects
Suitable for hedging/screening