The sandpaper fig or forest sandpaper fig (Ficus exasperata Vahl) is an arboreal species belonging to the Moraceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
F. exasperata species.
The terms are synonyms:
– Ficus asperrima Roxb.;
– Ficus hispidissima Wight;
– Ficus hispidissima Wight ex Miq.;
– Ficus politoria Moon;
– Ficus punctiferaWarb.;
– Ficus scabra Willd.;
– Ficus serrata Forssk.;
– Ficus silicea Sim;
– Synoeciaguillielmi-primi de Vriese.
The term Ficus is the classical Latin name of the fig tree, a genus already known at the time, probably derived from Hebrew.
The specific epithet exasperata comes from exaspero making rough, scabrous, irritating: roughened, made rough.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Ficus exasperata is a plant native to tropical Africa, in an area ranging from Senegal, Djibouti and Yemen east to Ethiopia and south to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and southern Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Yemen).
Its habitat is that of the driest parts of evergreen forest and secondary jungle. In fact, it is found in evergreen forests and forest margins and riverine vegetation, where it can wrap around other plants and suffocate them.
Ficus exasperata is a small to medium-sized deciduous and dioecious plant which can grow up to 20-30 meters in optimal conditions.
The trunk, which is slightly curved, reaches 50 cm in diameter; it can be grooved, and develops aerial roots and buttresses to anchor it in the ground and help support heavy branches.
The leaves are alternate almost opposite, simple, with an oval to elliptical or obovate blade; base sharp to dull; apex not very sharp, acute or obtuse; and entirely toothed margin.
The flowers are unisexual, pink, purplish or yellow, turning orange or red when ripe.
The fruit is a syconium and the trees can be female or hermaphroditic. Hermaphrodite trees are functionally male. The tree is known to be pollinated by the Kradibiagestroi wasp, where the female lays eggs in female trees.
Ficus exasperata is a deciduous tree that often begins life as an epiphyte, growing in the branch of another tree; as it ages it causes aerial roots to descend which, when they reach the ground, rapidly form roots and become much thicker and more vigorous. These provide the necessary nutrients to the fig tree, allowing it to grow faster than the host tree. The aerial roots gradually surround the host tree, preventing its main trunk from expanding, while at the same time the foliage suffocates the host’s foliage. Eventually the host dies, leaving the fig tree to continue growing without competition.
Being a dioecious species, if you want to obtain fruit you have to cultivate both the male and female forms.
Figs, as mentioned, through the Kradibiagestroi wasp, highly specialized for this species.
The trees produce three types of flowers; male, one long-styled female, and one short-styled female, often called a gall. All three types of flower are contained within the structure that we normally consider the fruit.
The female wasp enters a fig tree and lays her eggs on the short-styled female flowers while pollinating the long-styled female flowers. The wingless wasps emerge first, inseminate the emerging females, and then dig exit tunnels from the fig tree for the winged females. Females emerge, collect pollen from male flowers, and fly off in search of figs whose female flowers are receptive. To support a population of its pollinator, individuals of a Ficus spp. it must flower asynchronously. A population must exceed a critical minimum size to ensure that at any time of year at least some plants have an overlap of emission and reception of fig wasps. Without this time overlap short-lived pollinator wasps will become locally extinct.
The propagation can take place by seed, more widespread in nature, or also with agamic system through cuttings.
Customs and Traditions –
Ficus exasperata is a plant widely used in traditional medicine in Africa, being commonly harvested from the wild for local use and also sold in local markets. The tree also has many other local uses, the leaves are used as sandpaper, the plant has insect repellent properties and the wood is also used. The tree has been used to provide shade in plantings and is planted as a shade tree for avenues.
In edible uses, fresh leaves are used which are locally added to the oil palm fruits during the milling or pounding phase in order to improve the quality and stability of the oil obtained.
The use of Ficus exasperata leaves in oil palm processing has resulted in better oil stabilization in Nigeria. The antioxidant activities have been enhanced while the saponins, where present, have been eliminated and the sterols reduced.
In medicinal use this fig is commonly employed in traditional African medicine, being used in the treatment of a wide range of conditions. There have been several investigations into its medicinal actions.
In general, the extracts of the tree are used for their antiulcerous, hypotensive, lipid-lowering, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties.
In fact, the aqueous extracts of the leaf have shown protective gastrointestinal effects, diuretic activity, lipid-lowering effects and hypotensive effects.
An ethanolic extract of the leaf showed analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity in vivo and weak antipyretic activity.
The methanolic plant extracts showed antitumor activity and inhibition against trypsin activity.
The aqueous and ethanolic extracts of the leaf have shown no toxicity in various biological assays.
A compound with nematicidal activity, 5-methoxysporalene, was isolated from the leaf. The content was six times higher in young leaves than in mature leaves.
The stem and leaf contain alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins and cyanogenic glycosides.
The fruit contains flavonoids and xanthones.
Other uses include agroforestry:
Wild trees are sometimes retained when the forest is cleared so they can provide shade in banana, coffee or cocoa plantations.
The rough leaves are widely used as sandpaper for polishing wooden, metal or ivory objects, such as kitchen utensils, gourds, canes, bows, spear shafts, chairs, axes and bracelets.
The macerate of the leaves of this plant is sprayed against the attack of insects.
Cowpea pods treated with Ficus exasperata leaf powder before being stored under traditional conditions showed a decrease in both the percentage of beans with Callosobruchusmaculatus and the number of beetles that emerged.
The wood is white and moderately hard; it is used to make canoes, house poles, furniture, stools, utensils, containers and drums.
The young branches are used to make pipe stems (smoking pipes) while the wood is used as fuel and to make charcoal.
Finally, it is reported that although the leaf is sometimes reported to be poisonous to goats and sheep, it is often administered to ruminants, especially in Ghana.
Finally, the bark of the stem and the leaf are ingredients of arrow poisons.
Method of Preparation –
Ficus exasperata is a plant widely used in traditional medicine in the areas where it grows spontaneously.
Root decoctions are used in the treatment of diseases of the urinary tract, gonorrhea, asthma and tuberculosis. The root is chewed in case of cough. The root is an ingredient in a recipe for expelling worms.
The root bark is used against eye problems. The body is rubbed with root scrapings as a tonic.
Wood ash or charcoal is applied to lesions caused by leprosy.
The decoctions of the bark are used in the treatment of coughs, worms, hemorrhoids and abnormally enlarged spleen. They are also used as ingredients in the treatment of heart problems. A cold bark extract is drunk in case of dizziness. A maceration of the bark is carried out, combined with Senna occidentalis and Setariamegaphylla to facilitate childbirth or to cure gonorrhea.
The sap from the stem bark is used to stop bleeding, as a treatment for wounds, sores, abscesses, eye ailments, stomach aches, and for the removal of thorns, but some traditional healers consider it corrosive to the skin and dangerous to ingest. .
Ash from the burnt stem bark is sprinkled on the wounds.
The scrapers of the bark are prepared in pulps with stimulating and tonic properties. The bark of the stem is applied topically to the body for the treatment of malaria.
The leaves and young stems are abortifacient, analgesic, antidotic, diuretic, emetic, oxytocic and stomachic. A decoction is taken to treat dysentery; diseases of the kidneys and urinary tract; respiratory conditions such as coughs, colds, flu, and asthma; hypertension. The tender leaves are chewed and swallowed in case of gastric ulcers or used as ingredients in preparations for the treatment of heart diseases.
The leaves are cooked with bananas and eaten as a cure for gonorrhea; the cooking water is also drunk for this purpose.
The juice of the leaves or a decoction of the leaves is applied as an enema for the treatment of stomach pain and as an antidote to poison.
The leafy shoots are used in externally applied preparations against jaundice. The pulp or sap of the leaves is applied externally for the treatment of eye disorders, skin rashes, wounds, leprous sores, fungal infections, itching, edema, ringworm, rheumatism, and lumbar and intercostal pain.
The powder of the dried leaf is sprinkled on the burns.
The leaves are used as a mouthwash against thrush, inflammation of the gums and other ailments of the mouth and throat.
The heated leaves are rubbed on the head for the treatment of headaches; tumors are also rubbed with heated leaves. In case of severe headache, the patient’s head is washed with a decoction of the leaf.
The surface of the abrasive leaf is used to scarify the skin to aid in the penetration of medicines and to rub the tongue and throat for the treatment of mouth and throat disorders.
The leaf is also used to scratch itchy parts of the body and is ingested for the mechanical treatment of diarrhea and intestinal worms.
The fruit is consumed as a treatment for coughs and venereal diseases. Dried and powdered fruit is added to porridge for the treatment of women’s infertility.
The water with the seed powder is drunk as a tonic in case of fever.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.