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You know those movies where someone gets a lodger who turns out to be a real bad egg? It's all great at first. Smiles, a bit of flirting, great meals and even some dish washing. This is the best lodger ever!
|Image by Poytr via Flcikr|
The Strangler Fig is a bit like that, except without the whole "love" bit. They really just want your stuff, which is refreshingly honest and simple.
Wait... are you a tree? Probably not. They don't want your stuff, they want a tree's stuff.
Strangler Figs come from a hostile, barren environment: forests and rainforests. The fruits and foliage that make such places a paradise for so many animals, make it a dark, dry world for a young plant. Their own elders and other competitors take all the light from the sky and moisture from the ground. It's a world of dead man's boots, or dead tree's roots, where the young must wait for the old to die before they can compete to take their place.
|Image by Heather Culligan via Flcikr|
They aren't content to wait for a chance to arise. They take the bull by the horns and... do whatever you're supposed to do when you have a bull by the horns. They're not afraid to get some blood on their hands. Or sap on their.. bark... Let's move on.
It starts with a seed, deposited in the faeces of a bird perhaps. But not on the ground. Strangler Figs start life in the nooks and crannies of other trees, half way up the canopy where there is that much more light for the taking.
This young plant now grows, both up to the Sun and down to the ground. Roots descend all the way to terra firma, like a weird inverse of a borehole. But the Strangler Fig will not be satisfied with supping moisture through a few straws. Innocuous and harmless before now, the lodger begins to unveil its true intentions.
The roots begin to thicken. They are long, there are many of them and they completely surround the host tree. In time, they embrace their landlord's trunk. Before long it turns into constriction. Then they start to cut into it.
The host tree begins to suffer as less and less nutrients from the soil can make it up to the leaves, the pathways blocked and crushed by the Strangler. More and more nutrients are left in the ground, to be taken up by those same, deadly roots. On the other side, the Strangler Fig continues to grow upwards to the light and steals it away from the host.
Some Strangler Figs can reach some 45 metres (148 feet) in height and live for hundreds of years. With their dark past behind them, they become important, contributing members of society; their fruits are eaten by huge numbers of animals in the forest and many depend on them.
The Strangler Fig also depends on them. And it depends on some of those that depend on them. It's all a big circle of being dependent and dependable. Not the most romantic way of describing the Circle of Life, but then the Strangler Fig does its best to make it pretty unromantic anyway, so...
|Image by Neil Ennis via Flickr|