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Mulberry Family (Moraceae)

Flowers, Fruits And Leaves

Species of the mulberry family may be either monoecious or dioecious, depending on whether male and female flowers occur on the same plant (monoecious) or on separate plants (dioecious). Flowers of the Moraceae are in tightly packed groups, known as heads, spikes, catkins, or umbels. Fig flowers are produced inside a synconium, a hollow fleshy structure. The small flowers lack petals. Male flowers consist of four sepals, which are usually leaf-like appendages, and four stamens. Female flowers consist of four sepals and a pistil with a two-chambered ovary.

The fruit developed from a single female flower is either a fleshy drupe or a dry achene. The flowers fuse as they mature after fertilization, and a multiple fruit forms. The multiple fruit consists of small drupes or achenes grouped together in a single unit, and is usually round or oval shaped.

The best known fruit of the Moraceae is that of the common fig (Ficus carica), which has been cultivated for thousands of years. These cultivated figs develop without pollination, as this species does not produces male flowers. It is actually the synconium that is referred to as the fruit of the fig. In the case of fig varieties which are pollinated, the true fruit, an achene, develops inside the synconium. Figs are pollinated by wasps.

A wild form of the common fig, known as the caprifig, does produce male flowers. Pollen of the caprifig is sometimes used by fig breeders to fertilize female flowers of cultivated figs. In this process, known as caprification, a female gall wasp, carrying pollen from the caprifig, enters the synconium of a cultivated fig, where she pollinates the flowers, lay eggs, dies, and is absorbed by the synconium as the fruit develops. Figs produced by caprification are usually larger than cultivated fig fruits.

The fruits of some Moraceae, such as those from the jackfruit (Artocarpus integra), are very large, and can be up to 3 ft (1 m) long and weigh up to 99 lb (45 kg), although 44-55 lb (20-25 kg) is more common. Jackfruit leaves are much smaller than the fruits, usually 1.6 in (4 cm) or less.

Moraceae leaves occur in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, breadfruit, (Artocarpus communis), has lobed leaves that reach 2 ft (61 cm) in length. The common fig also has deeply lobed leaves. Other species, such as the creeping fig (Ficus pumila), have cordate leaves that are much smaller, with entire margins. It is not unusual to find both lobed and unlobed leaves on the same plant, especially in mulberries (Morus spp.). Leaves can occur singly on the stem, on alternating sides. At the base of a young leaf's petiole is a pair of stipules, but these soon fall off and leave a small scar on the stem.

Species of the Moraceae may be evergreen, or they may have deciduous leaves that fall off at the end of the growing season.

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