Thursday, January 19, 2006

Strangler Figs

(picture is from South Florida Information Access website)

The strangler fig sounds a bit scary, but don't worry, its not out to grab you as you wander through the forest! Like most plants, it starts from a seed, however the seed lodges in the moss or bark on a tree trunk then sends out long roots that drop to the forest floor. They often wrap around the trunk of the host tree on their way down to the soil. This fascinating plant can somehow detect when it is about to reach the ground, and each vine divides into several smaller branches or roots, supposedly making it easier to find water and nutrients. Once a root system is developed the vines that were wrapped around the host tree start to thicken and grow branches and leaves. The trunk of the original tree appears to be strangled by the fig, which a criss-cross of roots surrounding it and the new growth at the top starves the host of sunlight. It is thought that it is the lack of light that kills the host plant, not the strangling of its trunk.
(picture is from the website of Lamington National Park in Australia)

Eventually the host tree dies and decays, leaving a hollow trunk. Many creatures of the forest use the interior of the fig for a home. More information can be found at the Monga Bay website, including the fascinating relationship between the strangler fig and the gall wasp.


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