Climbing Fig, Creeping Fig

Unripe climbing fig fruit is much maligned in English. Photo by Green Deane

Unripe climbing fig fruit is much maligned in English. Photo by Green Deane

If there is one thing about the Internet that squeezes the sap out of me it is how mistakes proliferate rather than get corrected. I have ranted about that several times in many articles so there’s no need to vent that botanical spleen again except to say the Ficus pumila has been added to the got-it-wrong list.

Climbing figs ready for processing

Nearly every site in English will tell you the fruit of the Climbing Fig, Ficus pumila, is not edible (aka Ficus repens, Creeping Fig.)  A couple of sites even scream it is toxic (and warn you about spines it does not have.)  I will agree the Climbing Fig is not high on the edibility list and barely squeaks in. But, with proper preparation it can produce an edible product that is very popular in Asian countries. It is not toxic. It does not have spines.

I first saw Creeping Fig in Tampa a few years ago at an outdoor restaurant in Ybor City, that town’s Latin Quarter. It was successfully climbing several brick walls which is that fig’s particular claim to fame. It climbs. It will also ruin any wooden structure it climbs on so a  lot of folks also don’t like it because of that. However, give it the right environment and materials and you will soon have a living wall that does produce a food. What is that food?

Typical fig display of seeds inside the fruit

There are two species of the fig and while processed in a slightly different manner, the end goal is the same. The fruit is picked ripe, put in a porous bag, then squeezed. The resulting juice is cooked then cooled into a gelatinous jelly. It is mixed with water, or syrup and flavorings — usually lemon — to make a refreshing drink. Or it is served as a cooled gel, like “jello.” Many Asian markets sell the canned jelly under the name “Grass Jelly” or “Ai-yu Jelly.” A second species, really a variety, Ficus pumila var. awkeotsang is slightly different. Called the Chinese Jello Vine or Ai-yu-tzu, its fruit is sometimes eaten out of hand. Or, turned inside out when not quite ripe, dried, then the seeds are mixed with water to again get a gel used the same way as its relative.

Aiyu jelly ready to eat

Who discovered the fruit makes a jelly is unknown but there is a traditional story. In the 1800’s a businessman stopped at a river to get a drink and noticed a yellow gel in the water which he tired and liked. He noticed figs nearby dripping liquid into the river. He then delegated his daughter, Aiyu, to figure out how it was made and sell it. After she was successful he named the jelly and the plant after her. Nice guy. Almost a cute story. Would you taste a yellow gel you found floating in a river today? Or then?

Ficus (FEE-kus) is Dead Latin for fig. Pumila (POO-mil-ah) is Dead Latin dwarf. Repens (REE-penz) is also Dead Latin for creeping, or recent, but with plants it usually means creeping. Awkeotsang is anglicized Chinese for the vine. The Jelly is called “Aiyu” as well as Pinyin. There is at least on cultivar, called Minima, which has small leaves. Species is sometimes wrongly called Ficus scandens.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Climbing Fig

IDENTIFICATION: Ficus pumila: Vigorous, self-clinging, evergreen vine. Holds to any surface with aerial rootlets. Ovate leaves are heart-shaped, juvenile foliage, half-inch long, much lager in age, two three inches long, sticks out from vine. One variety has an oak leaf shape. A common landscape vine in tropical, subtropical areas, to feet or more. Very pronounced venation on underside of leaf. Two distinct leaf types: juvenile foliage is very small and tend to hug wall, or trellis that it is growing on. Hairy pear-shaped fruits to 2.5 inches long may appear on outdoor plants throughout the year. Potted plants rarely fruit. Fruit purple when ripe. It can cover a fence to the point it looks like a shrub or a hedge completely hiding the fence.

TIME OF YEAR: All year long but locally they favor the fall but can be found in late spring.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes full sun and something to climb on. Do not over water. Where I’ve seen it growing it only gets rain water.

Fig is turned inside out and allowed to dry some

METHOD OF PREPARATION: With Ficus pumila the fruits are squeezed in a porous bag and the liquid cooked. With  Ficus pumila var. awkeotsangthe nearly ripe fruit is tuned inside out and allowed to dry for a few days. The seeds are put in porous bag which is put in water and rubbed. The seeds release a gel which takes a few minutes.  The gel is allowed to set in a cool location. There cannot be any grease in the jelling pan or sugar. Distilled water cannot be used and the seeds should not be rubbed so hard they break. The jelly usually served with honey and lemon juice but can also be used to flavor shaved ice. The gel will not dissolve in hot water, thus it is sometimes added to various dishes.

HERB BLURB

What this abstract means, I think, is that adding the jelly to a fermenting must reduced the alcohol production.

Crude pectinesterase (PE) inhibitor (PEI) extracted from jelly-fig achenes (JFA) (Ficus awakeosang Makino) was added to carambola (Averrhoa carambola L.) puree to determine the change in methanol production during fermentation. Addition of pectin or microbial pectic enzyme to puree increased dose-dependently the methanol content in fermented products. Decreasing ratio (from 1:0 to 1:19, v:v) of pectic enzyme to diluted crude PEI solution in the puree−enzyme mixture decreased the PE activity remarkably. Except for transmittance (%T), addition of crude PEI to puree did not affect apparently the physical and chemical properties of wine; however, it reduced methanol content in the control from 256 to 58 ppm. The degree of esterification (DE) of pectin in starting puree was 70%. It decreased to 27% in the control group and reduced slightly to 67% in fermented puree with crude PEI added after 14 days of fermentation. This reveals that crude PEI solution was potent in inhibiting intrinsic carambola PE activity and appeared to be a potential alternative for methanol reduction in wines

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{ 47 comments… add one }
  • Joyce April 12, 2012, 10:08 pm

    Wonderful article. A friend and I found this vine and its fruits on a brick wall while walking around in her neighborhood. We took pictures of the vine and its fruit (both inside and outside), fascinated by its appearance, but tossed away the fruit because we didn’t know it was edible. We might get some cuttings next time, but are worried that since they were growing in a posh neighborhood, that they might have been sprayed with pesticides. How long can a plant store pesticides in its tissues?

    Reply
  • Angela May 20, 2012, 7:59 pm

    I wish I had found your site earlier this year, I had fruits for the first time, what a surprise!, and everything I found online said they were toxic or not edible. I threw them all away. Dang!
    I’m near Houston so my climate should be similar to yours. I am enjoying your videos too and learning a lot.

    Reply
    • Tina April 17, 2013, 3:38 pm

      Angela,

      I live in Houston. I’ve been looking everywhere for this plant. Is it possible to get a cutting from you?

      Reply
  • Tom March 3, 2013, 6:03 pm

    How might one purchase this creeping fig in the United States for growth in their yard?

    Reply
    • Green Deane March 3, 2013, 6:31 pm

      Many nurseries sell it.

      Reply
    • Ashley July 1, 2013, 8:04 pm

      Home depot sells them, which is how I was able to identify it was the kind on our brick wall.

      Reply
  • john April 4, 2013, 11:16 am

    Is this is an evasive plant? I have some in a grenhouse as a specimen.

    Reply
    • eswari May 5, 2013, 1:46 am

      Extremely, horribly invasive but green and beautiful. I have been trying to get rid of it for years halfheartedly off course. But I did not know about the fruits.

      Reply
  • Stoney April 7, 2013, 11:18 am

    This vine is growing fast and weighing down limbs, it’s choking my 150 year old pin oak. How do I destroy it

    Reply
    • Green Deane April 7, 2013, 9:32 pm

      Thanks for writing but that is not my area of expertise. I know how to grow them, not get rid of them.

      Reply
    • John Keatts April 30, 2013, 11:05 am

      Try pruning it rather then destroying it.

      Reply
      • Green Deane April 30, 2013, 7:30 pm

        It’s climbing roots are not kind to wood.

        Reply
  • Sheila johnson April 14, 2013, 4:30 pm

    Found these fruit growing on my wall and was not shocked, but surprised! Glad to know the truth about the fruit!

    Reply
  • Krishina September 24, 2013, 8:17 am

    But my dog eat some of these fruits and became sic…he has nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain

    Reply
  • pamela May 20, 2014, 12:05 pm

    I just moved to Houston and I have these in my yard. It has taken over a huge pine tree and has been dropping 100+ fruits a day. My dog has been eating them, but he hasn’t gotten sick. My landlord doesn’t seem concerned, about the growth, but could it kill the pine tree over time?

    Reply
    • Green Deane May 20, 2014, 6:29 pm

      They get quite large and heavy. If it were my pine tree I would be concerned and trimming.

      Reply
  • Mary June 9, 2014, 12:44 am

    What started as a 4 in. pot of this small leaf vine has all but killed a very mature pine in my front yard. Three large limbs have already broken off, but remained attached by the very strong vines that are now up to 1 inch in diameter. The vines overlap as they grow up and “join” making it next to impossible to kill it by even cutting foot wide sections away. I thought I had done enough damage by cutting away most of the vines around the tree last year, but enough lived and it’s bigger than ever. I cleaned up a large yard waste bag of the so called fruit today just so I could mow the grass. I am not a fan and feel that Home Depot should stop selling such a nuisance plant. It will cost a grand to remove the tree if I can’t save it.

    Reply
    • Green Deane June 9, 2014, 8:20 am

      This fig does have a dark side. Imagine what it does to buildings.

      Reply
  • Robin Eikill December 24, 2014, 11:29 am

    My dogs LOVE these…to me the ripe ones smell like kerkey treats so I imagine that’s why. They haven’t been sick and I’m about to give.up the fight…any advice ?

    Reply
    • Green Deane December 24, 2014, 1:06 pm

      Thanks for letting us know some dogs can tolerate some of them.

      Reply
  • rex April 7, 2015, 12:11 am

    Hi,

    Thx for the site it helps a lot. I’ve read online but don’t trust that all fig fruit is edible and non toxic, Is it true?

    There are serveral figs in the area, and am trying to figure out how to identify them.

    Reply
    • Green Deane April 7, 2015, 7:29 am

      Several things which are not true figs can be called figs. Fruit in the fig family are usually edible but many times not palatable, the fruit of the strangler fig is a good example.

      Reply
  • Annatjie Verster April 20, 2015, 12:06 pm

    Thank you for the information. Wish I discovered your site earlier on . I’ve never seen the plant in RSA. Might be supprise hey? Greetings.

    Reply
  • Mistu Hana May 1, 2015, 9:29 am

    Hmm…the other day I went to pick the figs with my classmate. It triggered her eczema. There’s was some milky fluid on top of the fruit when I picked it from the vine. The insides of the fruit was dark pink, it smelled nice but I was skeptical of eating it. So I left it on the ground, I came back about 30minutes later and saw ants crawling in the fruit. My school is in Singapore and they sell aiyu jelly in the cafeteria 🙂

    Reply
  • Tammy May 12, 2015, 11:05 pm

    My vine has figs that are yellow right now. When will they be ripe? Can I eat them straight off the vine? Can they be dried and eaten?
    I agree it is very invasive. Good to prune it as needed. But I am grateful that it has totally covered a plain block wall in 3 years. And this was from just a little bit growing on the other side of the wall.

    Reply
    • Green Deane May 13, 2015, 2:07 pm

      They are ripe when yellow but they are NOT eaten. Thye are not dried an eaten. As I say in the article it is the liquided squeezed from the fruit that is edible.

      Reply
  • Cherian.O.S June 17, 2015, 9:38 am

    Very much like to promote the indoor Plant Ficus Pumila Figs… the creaping plant, as i have a promoter of New Plants your details above are very much useful to me, i will promote this indoor plant all over Indian States, as Cement Concrete buildings will omit Heat most of the Flates, Office Buildings, Houses,others, send me more and more scientific details about Ficus Pumila Figs that will be benifited to all.

    Reply
  • Jessie B June 24, 2015, 5:53 pm

    Haven’t seen Ficus pumila fruiting here in NZ (will watch more closely), but do have F. dammaropsis, grown for its large corrugated leaves. We don’t have the necessary wasp here for pollination, but I’m wondering if the large unpollinated fruits have any use?

    Reply
    • Sallyanne November 22, 2017, 4:31 pm

      I’m in Hamilton, NZ. I have the Ficus pumila covering an old wall/fence and it has figs. I agree it is very vigorous, but we keep it well trimmed back and under control. I never water it and it looks great all year round.

      Reply
  • Fred August 1, 2015, 11:34 pm

    Livermore, CA
    -Ficus Pumila (FP) has completely covered our driveway wooden trellis for 10 years.
    -Prune it away from the house walls due to damage of leftover FP suction pieces unless you want wall covered with FP.
    -Grows quickly, must be pruned regularly, attaches to anything it touches, beautiful green crawling vine, produces fruit fig pods.
    -Our dogs have had no ill effects to having eaten them.
    -Looking forward to creating an edible dish or drink.

    Reply
    • Effie February 8, 2017, 2:16 am

      Hi Fred,

      I would love to see a photo if you have one to post or share. I’m looking for a plant to grow or some fruit pods to obtain the seeds. Feel free to email me directly if you like. If it grows so quickly, I presume propagation should be fairly simple? Does it appear to have roots along the vines like trumpet vine or boston ivy, or does it have tendrils like kiwi and passionfruit?

      Thanks,
      Effie

      Reply
  • Eugene Sing August 14, 2015, 8:38 pm

    I am luck from parents, some big (30 ft) high creeping fig climbing the old trees.
    The birds more luck than me , they get free and healthy meal.

    Reply
  • John a January 3, 2016, 1:30 pm

    Can I plant the seeds and grow more ivy

    Reply
    • Green Deane January 3, 2016, 8:03 pm

      Yes…. but cutting might be quicker.

      Reply
  • Effie February 15, 2016, 11:16 pm

    Hi,
    Thank you for your fascinating and informative website.
    I’m in search of Ficus awkeotsang Makino achenes, specifically the Makino variety, not the creeping fig from Armstrong nurseries or Home Depo. Would anyone know where I can find this specific variety in the US? It is very prevalent in Taiwan where they do scientific research on its polymerizing characteristics. The paper you cited Pectinesterase Inhibitor from Jelly-Fig (Ficus awkeotsang Makino) Achenes Reduces Methanol Content in Carambola Wine was one of many.

    Sincerely,
    Effie

    Reply
    • Michelle November 24, 2016, 9:39 am

      We have this growing naturally on our wall in Huntington Beach California among some palms and pine trees . It’s been growing for over 20 years. Email me and I can send you a picture.

      Reply
      • Effie February 8, 2017, 2:09 am

        Hi Michelle,

        Great to hear from you. I was in Taiwan at the time of your post, (and haven’t been back to this site since then; sorry for the delayed response). I was able to see the aiyu jelly being made in the street markets. Very cool!

        How exciting to hear that you have one of these plants! I’d love to see a photo of your 20+ year old plant. My father is the real gardener who is looking for the plant. He lives in Carlsbad CA, so his climate (like Huntington Beach) would probably be suitable for growing it too. Do you think there might be a possibility of getting a cutting or some seeds from your plant?

        I look forward to hearing back from you,
        Cheers,
        Effie

        Reply
  • Jill-Anna August 23, 2016, 10:14 pm

    Do you know if the fruit that is produced from the climbing fig is safe for dogs to digest?

    Our youngest canine (under a year) is obsessed with picking them off our retaining wall vine and digesting them?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Green Deane August 23, 2016, 11:49 pm

      Have not heard of that plant being a problem to dogs.

      Reply
  • beck October 30, 2016, 1:00 am

    Re: “The Jelly is called “Aiyu” as well as Pinyin”
    Er, I think there may have been a misunderstanding in the translation process – “pinyin” refers to the romanized spellings of Chinese words (so for example, the pinyin for 愛玉 is àiyù)
    I mean it’s possible I’m wrong and pinyin also happens to be a nickname for the climbing fig but I didn’t find anything about that when I looked it up so I think it was probably the mistranslation thing, or maybe a typo
    Anywho, just wanted to bring that to your attention

    Reply
  • Gary Ferris December 31, 2016, 4:21 pm

    I have a climbing fig as a hedge, it’s got lots of fruit on it now, don’t think I will attempt to eat them though , the roots on it are extremely invasive just like any other fig plant here in Australia…

    Reply
    • Green Deane January 4, 2017, 5:53 am

      One does not eat the fruit. It is the congealed juice that is consumed.

      Reply
  • Bobbie Fenton March 5, 2017, 7:46 pm

    Love the one growing on my house. Entire plant Started out no bigger than my pinky and now covers the entire house! Cut our cooling bill here on the gulf coast where it gets unbearably hot in HALF!

    Reply
  • EZAN April 18, 2017, 11:33 pm

    Good day, can we grow ficus piluma from the fruits?

    Reply
    • Green Deane April 19, 2017, 9:09 am

      If they have fertile seeds, or from cuttings.

      Reply
  • Ruth Ulrich December 6, 2017, 2:41 am

    It is trying to take over my massive live oak tree, here in Monroe, LA (Northeast LA) We cut it back 2 years ago and thought it was gone, but it is back and when the arborist came to trim the trees, he used his chainsaw to try to remove it. Looks like it loved it. It just stopped dropping fruit all over the place.

    Reply

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