Strangler Fig

Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea) is native to Florida, the northern and western Caribbean, southern Mexico and Central America south to Panama. It can grow independently or on another tree for support to a height of 100 feet.

If you find the fig tree "strangling" another another tree, the seed was dumped into the upper portion of the "host tree" by a bird. This often happens in sabal palms.

Once a fig seed germinates, the fig tree lives as an epiphyte and sends aerial roots toward the ground. Roots can penetrate the bark of the "host tree"... preventing the flow of nutrients, however, a strangler fig is not considered a parasite of the tree on which it grows because it does not get nutrients from it.

The main body of the strangler fig grows upward. It shades its "host tree" and adds weight. These things can stress the "host tree." Once the fig roots contact the ground, it is no longer an epiphyte and it competes for soil moisture with the tree it is strangling. Eventually, the host tree may die and the strangler tree is left freestanding.

The sizes and shapes of strangler fig leaves are quite variable, but generally when a strangler fig grows independently, its leaves are considerably smaller than those that live on "host trees." This makes them look more like other “figs.”

Strangler fig trees produce both male and female flowers on the same tree. Like all fig trees, a strangler fig has an obligate mutualist relationship with fig wasps. Fig trees can be pollinated only by fig wasps and fig wasps can reproduce only inside fig flowers.

If pollinated, strangler fig trees produce edible fruits. As shown in the photograph at left, the figs are in pairs, green at first, ripening to yellow and finally red.

Strangler fig trees provide food and shelter for many organisms.

Native Americans used latex sap from strangler fig trees to seal their dugout canoes and to trap birds. Today, people use the tree in traditional medicine, for live fencing, and for ornamentals and bonsai.

© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).

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