It lacks the native charm of the sycamore or oak. It wants for the palm's exotic appearance. It doesn't have the pepper tree's romantic associations with California's mission past. It never enjoyed, unlike the eucalyptus, the passionate advocacy of a forester like Abbot Kinney. But the fig tree -- and specifically the majestic Moreton Bay fig, whose branches can spread more than 100 feet and send down aerial roots that harden into buttresses -- has become a cherished part of Southern California's arboreal heritage.
When an ad-hoc group named the Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles Committee surveyed L.A. County in the 1980s, their report identified 13 individual Moreton Bay fig specimens as exceptional -- far more than any other species or cultivar. The city of Los Angeles recognizes three separate plantings of Moreton Bay figs as historic-cultural monuments, and local communities have been quick to rally when development threatens the trees.
Known in botanical circles as Ficus macrophylla, the Moreton Bay fig is a member of scientific group of trees that includes the common fig, the Indian banyan, and the Indian rubber tree. F. macrophylla's sweet, globular fruits are an important source of food for animals in the subtropical rainforests of Australia's eastern coast, where the tree originates.