On the origin of the fig: Phylogenetic relationships of Moraceae from NDHF sequences

Shannon L. Datwyler, George D. Weiblen

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113 Scopus citations


The majority of species in the mulberry family (Moraceae) are figs (Ficus), marked by a specialized inflorescence (syconium) and an obligate mutualism with pollinating fig wasps. Because of the unique morphology of the syconium, it has been difficult to investigate the evolutionary position of the fig. We sequenced the chloroplast gene ndhF to examine relationships in Moraceae and to elucidate shifts in reproductive traits. The reclassification of tribes is warranted, and the limits of Artocarpeae, Moreae, and Castilleae are revised to reflect evolutionary relationships. The results point to ancestral dioecy in Moraceae and multiple origins of monoecy, androdioecy, and gynodioecy. Ancestral wind pollination gave way to insect pollination at least twice. Strong support for the sister-group relationship of a revised Castilleae with Ficus suggests that entomophily and involucral bracts encircling the flowers preceded the evolution of the syconium. Bracts surround flowers in Castilleae only during early development, but in Ficus the involucre and the receptacle enclose the fruit as well. Molecular dating suggests that fig pollination is at least 80-90 million years old. The diversity of Ficus relative to its sister group is a likely consequence of ancient specialization and cospeciation with pollinating fig wasps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-777
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2004


  • Breeding systems
  • Ficus
  • Molecular dating
  • Moraceae
  • Phylogenetic classification
  • Pollination


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