Balboa Park is known for its diverse collection of plants and trees. This landmark Moreton Bay Fig tree is the largest of the Ficus macrophylla represented in the park. It was planted as a small tree in a garden of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and, with more than a century of growth, has become a magnificent giant. The tree was officially measured in 1996 at 78 feet (24 meters) high, with a crown width of 123 feet (37 meters) and a trunk girth of 486 inches (12.3 meters). It is one of the three largest Moreton Bay Fig trees in the state of California.
Ficus macrophylla is a native of east Australia. When it is grown in an open area where it can spread, the Moreton Bay Fig may become as much as 150 feet wide; but crowded in its natural forest habitat—or near buildings in an urban setting—it tends to grow tall and narrow. Several other specimens of this species, as well as 32 other kinds of fig trees, are planted in Balboa Park. Many people who grew up in San Diego remember climbing around the roots of this tree as children. Unfortunately, heavy foot traffic caused soil compaction and damage to the delicate surface-feeding roots of the tree, preventing it from obtaining nutrients and water, and the tree began to decline. It was trimmed and fenced off in 1989, mulch was allowed to accumulate, and the tree has recovered and once again shows thick, glossy foliage. As it has recovered it has begun to show the aerial roots that are characteristic of fig trees. In the wild, these roots would have been growing since the early youth of the tree, and would have reached the ground and developed into stout, woody props to help support the heavy branches.
Providing shade and respite under the canopy everyday, the tree is stunningly illuminated during the Balboa Park December Nights celebration each year. Washed in color and glowing in the night sky, the Moreton Bay Fig Tree has become a fan-favorite meeting spot during the first Friday and Saturday in December.