South African botanist Christiaan Hendrik Persoon published a formal description of the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) in his 1807 work Synopsis Plantarum. The specific epithet macrophylla is derived from the ancient Greek makros "large" and phyllon "leaf" and refers to the size of the leaves. In the early 19th century, Italian botanist Vincenzo Tineo of the Botanical Garden of Palermo in Sicily obtained a plant from a French nursery that grew to prodigious size with an epiphytic habit, (a species of plants that live on other plants). This form was propagated and cultivated in many gardens of Sicily. A later director of the gardens, Antonino Borzi, described it as Ficus magnolioides in 1897. This name was widely used in Europe.