LUBI-LUBI or PALM LEAF FIG
Scientific name: Ficus pseudopalma
Family: Moraceae (Fig family)
Common names: Lubi-lubi, Niog-niogan, Palm Leaf Fig, Philippine Fig
The Philippines is home to thousands of endemic species, and one of them is a fig locally known as Lubi-lubi. I’ve known about this plant since I took up a plant taxonomy course in college, but I only learned that it was also eaten as a vegetable during my field work in La Mesa Watershed when I was already an Assistant Professor.
This is such a strange-looking fig plant, that when encountered for the first time by an American botany professor whom I hosted when I was still working in UP Diliman, he was puzzled for several moments before he realized that it was indeed a fig. The ‘pseudopalma’ part of its scientific name means ‘fake palm’, due to its palm-like appearance.
Be proud that Lubi-lubi is endemic to our country, which means it’s found only here! (Note: It has been brought to other countries as an ornamental, but they don’t bear viable seeds).
This shrub or small tree grows in early successional areas that don’t get too dry during the summer. The ones I’ve seen are not cultivated at all, but are rather “hulog ng langit” (fallen from the sky); they are easily dispersed by fig-eating animals. As long as its fig wasps are present, the fruits will get pollinated and ripen.
We got Lubi-lubi plant in these photos from a friend at the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. when it was still tiny. It’s now bearing fruits (syconia, if you want to be more technical), but unfortunately, I think there aren’t any of the specific pollinator wasps in our area, hence the figs do not ripen. As you can see, the plant is thriving, even though it is in a pot.
The young shoots are the ones consumed, and you’ll maybe notice in the photo that we’ve been picking them. Usually though, the entire apex is harvested, but that kills the apical bud. That may encourage lateral branching, but we don’t do it for fear of killing the plant. Let me know if you’ve ever done it and whether the plant lived or died.
Pick the young leaves while they’re still reddish. Otherwise, they’ll be too fibrous to eat. This vegetable is popular in the Bicol Region, where it is usually cooked in coconut milk, onions, garlic, and of course lots of hot chili peppers. It also has folkloric uses for the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, kidney stones.