The sacred fig tree is a type of ficus that grows very large, up to 30 m (98 ft.) tall, in humid areas in its native India. The heart-shaped leaves have extended tips that help channel water down the leaf surface and off the bottom of the tip. The action of these “drip tips” enables the plant to move surface water efficiently and dry off more quickly than plants that do not have drip tips on their leaves. Removing excess water from the leaf surface helps to prevent the growth of potentially harmful mildew or microorganisms, which can thrive in the hot and humid conditions that sacred figs live in.
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“Leaves with cutoff drip tips retained ca 2.3 times more water on their surface than those in the other two treatments (Table 1). Differences among individual plants did not explain variation in water retention (F6, 12 5 1.37, P 5 0.3). These results support the hypothesis that drip tips play a role in reducing fungi on leaves of understory trees and in facilitating efficient drainage of water from leaf surfaces.” (Ivey and DeSilva 2001:189)
“Past studies have found, as we did, that drip tips increase the rate of water shedding or leaf drying (Stahl 1893, Dean & Smith 1978, Lightbody 1985). These findings suggest that this may be a mechanism by which drip tips reduce fungal growth or colonization. Others, however, have suggested that increased rates of water shedding and leaf drying may increase transpiration rates (Stahl 1893, Leigh 1975), reduce nutrient leaching from the leaf (Edmisten 1970), and decrease reflectance of sunlight (Lightbody 1985). Drip tips also reduce the size of droplets falling from leaves, which may help minimize soil disturbance beneath a plant (Williamson 1981, Williamson et al. 1983, Rebelo & Williamson 1996) or reduce the spread of fungal pathogens among leaves within plants (J. O’Brien, pers. comm.).” (Ivey and DeSilva 2001:190)