Friday, January 6, 2012

Crazy Plants: Strangler fig

A strangler fig (Ficus aurea) wrapping itself around a tree
The strangler fig is native to parts of Florida and into the West Indies. It has a common name that is a name that is incredibly appropriate. It starts out as a parasite after seeds, which are transported by birds and other animals, fall into crevices and cracks in a tree. The plant then sends air roots out, which are used to collect all of the nutrients and water needed for it to grow, both from the host plant and the surrounding air. Eventually, these air roost will grow into each other, covering the host tree. With time, it will strangle its host and, if the tree dies, the strangler fig can then support itself, leaving a hollow where the host once was. The fig can become incredibly complex thanks to the growth patterns of the plant, potentially covering a large area. They are really quite fascinating to look at, thanks to their web-like growth patterns. The parasitic life cycle allows the strangler fig to gain access to light, something that can be an issue for plants growing in a forest.

Strangler figs can be incredibly large in size, up to sixty feet tall and four feet in diameter. Leaves are fairly large and yellowy green, up to three inches wide and five inches long. The half-inch fruit is fig-like, and varies from deep purple to yellow. It grows best in the sandy soils that are so common in its native range. The plant has been used as an ornamental in some Florida cities for several reasons. It grows quickly, provides a great amount of shade, it is large in size. However, it isn't very good for small areas as it can take over and drop a great amount of fruit. 

A strangler fig being used as an ornamental
Sources are the School of Forest Resources and Conservation from the University of Florida and the California Institute of Technology. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free or under a Creative Commons license: one, two.

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