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Learn About Strangler Figs

Learn About Strangler Figs

The strangler fig can grow to about 150 feet (45.7 m.) in height. So what are all those vine-like structures that snake down its trunk? Those are roots. Roots? But don’t they grow under the ground? Find out!

Strangler figs stop the flow of nutrients of its host tree, literally strangling it to death, leaving only a hollow trunk! Photo: O. Baudys/Wikimedia Commons.

Well, birds love to eat the good-tasting fruit (figs) of these trees. The fruits are seed-rich. When these birds poop, the seeds fall in all sort of places. Some fall in the fork of the branches or hollows in the branch. Here they germinate, and a new plant grows. The new, small epiphytic plant (one that grows on other plants) sends out many thin roots to find food (nourishment) that go down the trunk or dangle as aerial roots and move towards the soil. When they reach the ground, they dig in and give out more roots that compete with the host tree for water and nutrients. The new network of roots wraps around the host tree, often becoming thicker and fusing together. Gradually, they completely cut out the host’s flow of nutrients and squeeze its trunk or “strangle” it. That is why this tree is named so. The host tree dies leaving the fig with a hollow trunk.There are even examples where seeds dropped in crevices in old buildings have grown into plants with the roots covering the entire building. Check out the ancient Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia where giant strangler figs grow around the walls. Did you know that the Indian banyan tree is a type of strangler fig tree? So next time you see one, check out its prop roots and tell your parents all about this amazing tree.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, November 2013.


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