Hemiepiphytic or "strangler" fig seeds are dispersed by vertebrates to establishment sites on potential host trees. Despite the importance of figs in rain forests and considerable interest in their ecology, little has been known about their early life history because it occurs in the canopy. In this paper I review work related to fig seed germination and seedling establishment and summarize my recent field experiments in the Bornean rain forest canopy to provide a synopsis of current information on fig seedling ecology. The emerging picture suggests that fig seeds germinate readily anywhere if they get enough moisture. For subsequent survival and growth, water, nutrients, and light are required, but the most limiting factor in the canopy is water stress, even in perhumid rain forests. Given a good establishment site such as a large knothole or other place on a host tree where water is trapped and nutrients accumulate, fig seedlings can take advantage of high light levels and grow rapidly. However, such sites are rare and figs also face insect seed predation and herbivory as important mortality factors in the canopy.