Far Out Flora

Hugemongous Moreton Bay Fig


Moreton Bay Fig Tree - Ficus macrophylla

Moreton Bay Fig Tree - Ficus macrophylla

Near the Amtrak station in Santa Barbara, there’s one of the biggest Moreton Bay Fig trees in the country.  This monstrous fig spans just under 200 feet wide.  Wow, that like 4 Greyhound buses parked end to end.  Look above.  You see that little black thing on the far right?

Southern Pacific Train by Amtrak, Santa Barbara

Southern Pacific Train by Amtrak

It’s the old SP 142, a retired Southern Pacific train car.  Looks like the tree was last measured in 2010.  Not a record breaker, but still an awesome sight.

We accidentally stumbled upon this Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) while looking for place to rest our bones after looking at plants all day.  It’s located on the corner of Chapala St and West Montecito St… a block down from a great brew pub coincidental called the Brewhouse.

Detail of the foliage.

Detail of the foliage.

Ahh, great foliage on this tree.  Green on top, and a bronze pubescence on the underside of these stiff leathery leaves.

Trunk in detail.

Buttress roots at the trunk.

I learned an odd tidbit about Ficus macrophylla.  It’s considered a banyan fig, that is, their seeds can lodge themselves into the canopy of a host tree.  It germinates high above the ground and can live as an epiphyte.  During this stage, the fig sends down roots to the ground often wrapping these feelers around its host.  Eventually the fig takes root becoming freestanding, and I guess at this point…technically becomes a tree.

Megan with the Fig

Megan with the Fig

Those buttress roots above dwarf Megan.  So, what’s the story behind this gem?  The worn plaque next to the tree states it best:

This Moreton Bay Fig Tree (Ficus macrophylla) was planted in 1877 on land then owned by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company.  The tree was officially designated as a historic landmark in 1970 and the property was deeded to the City of Santa Barbara in 1976.  The tree is believed to be the largest of its kind in the United States.  Measured in November 1991, the branch spread was 167 feet with a total height of 76 feet.  The trunk diameter above the buttress roots is 12.5 feet.

For your own safety and for the health and preservation of the tree, please enjoy the tree from the area beyond the surface roots and do not climb on or carve into the roots or branches.

Located between State Street and Montecito Street.

Located just off State Street on the corner of Chapala and West Montecito.

Cool little find.  Don’t you love when you’re on a road trip and come across something completely unexpected?

— Far Out Flora


  1. You should see the Morton Bay figs in Sydney, Australia. So many of them…each one different from the others. The trunks are amazing.

  2. That’s a great looking tree.The fig tree in my garden seems determined to saty about eighteen inches tall. Bif fig, twig fig.

  3. holey moley! I love the impression it gives on leaning to one side.

  4. Here’s a story about a recent branch loss on SF’s largest Ficus macrophylla: http://burritojustice.com/2010/09/16/history-of-a-tree-a-branch-a-block/

  5. aloha friends,

    these get huge out here also, in hilo is a drive called banyan drive with trees planted by local and international celebrities in the 30’s and they are around 60 to 70 feet tall and the snakey (you lke my technical terms?) bottoms cover large areas as well…i love your visit to the seaside gardens and the freaking out aloes :)

  6. This tree makes me wish I was little and could make a fort in the buttress roots!

    • I did read on the road side america site that back in the day, you would see people camping in the buttress roots…homeless people too, but no anymore. it would be the new couch surfing if it was still available.

  7. I love that tree…you could build a playhouse around the root system. The Brewhouse is in my neighborhood & I’ve spent many a Happy Hour there. Two things gardeners love …plants & beer!

  8. Pingback: Moreton Bay Fig « Gardora.net

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