The Strangler Fig

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Academy, Brains, Readings
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‘Strangler Figs’ or ‘Moreton Bay Figs’, also called banyan trees, have evolved a most interesting innovation to deal with the ferocious competition for light in the rainforest. Fig seeds are dropped by animals or birds in the canopy, which gives the fig an immediate head start on the competition. The fig then grows as an epiphyte in crooks of the upper branches of its host, and sends thin ariel ‘strangler’ roots down to the ground. On reaching the earth these roots take hold and begin competing aggressively with the host for sustenance. The roots also establish an interconnected underground network, thereby further depriving the host of resources and restricting the growth of its trunk. At the same time, in the canopy, the Strangler puts out lots of large leaves (the binomial name for the Strangler is ficus macrophylla – ‘large leaf’) blocking the host’s access to sunlight. Over time the Strangler Fig thus completely encircles and then slowly kills the host tree, through a combination of deprivation of sunlight and nutrients, root competition, and throttling. The Strangler Fig generally thrives on older host trees that are already past their prime; these decay and release nutrients into the earth, used by the Strangler Fig and other plants and animals in the area. Eventually the fig is ‘columnar’: a full-grown tree with a completely hollow core, where the original host tree used to be.

To learn more about the life-cycle of this fascinating species, try:

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