Florida Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea)
Strangler fig trees start out as seeds that are dropped by birds or dispersed by wind into the canopy or tops of trees where they start to grow and benefit from the moisture in the air and water running over the host tree. They are epiphytes or air plants in the beginning of their development until they grow roots that extend down into the ground. They can envelop their host tree like the palm tree shown in first picture and kill it by starving it of water and sunlight. Other types of strangler figs of which there are over 150 species like the “Weeping fig”, grow vines or roots downward from the tops of trees through the air until they reach the ground. The second picture shows one of these Weeping figs growing on an Old Growth Bald Cypress at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The Strangler fig tree is native to Florida meaning they existed here by the time the Spanish explorers came to Florida. Strangler figs grow mostly in moist tropical ecosystems. Florida’s sub- tropical environment is well suited for their growth. They are important plant species in some tropical forests and are actually thought to be “Keystone Species” or essential to the survival to some ecosystems because of the fruit of their hidden flowers that provides food and it’s ability to provide shelter for many species of animals, birds and insects. I didn’t know until I started reading about Fig trees that a Banyan tree is a type of Fig Tree. One of the largest Banyan trees I have seen is at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers. You can learn more about Strangler fig trees by visiting the Encyclopedia Britannica website or going to the Blue Planet Biomes website.
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