Strangler fig

Strangler fig trees often, but not always, begin their life in the boots (old leafstems) of cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto).  They do not literally strangle their host, but they send down substantial aerial roots and out-compete their host for nutrients, water, and sunlight.

Strangler figs can grow to be large trees, from 50 – 70′ tall and equally wide.  Their bark is smooth, tan-ish, and often marked by lovely lichens …

Its alternate leaves are 2 – 6″ long, elliptic to ovate, and have a yellow mid vein …

Each leaf is darker above, paler below, and exudes a milky white sap when broken (which can serve as an ID character).

A prominent ring marks the stem where the petiole (leafstem) attaches to the stem …

Strangler figs are semi-deciduous, and fallen leaves are quickly replaced in the late winter or early spring.

Its flowers are tiny and inconspicuous.  They are pollinated by a tiny- tiny host-specific wasp (Pegoscapus mexicanus) that, like the flowers, goes largely unnoticed.

Its fruits, smallish figs, are about 1/2 – 3/4″ round, and full of lots and lots of tiny seeds.  Fruits ripen in the spring and summer from green to gold to bright red when ripe.

Strangler fig fruits are sessile (attached directly to the stem), which distinguishes a strangler fig from the other native ficus, wild banyan (Ficus citrifolia), which also is pollinated by its own tiny specialized wasp.

The “figs” were eaten by aboriginal people and are beloved – and spread – by frugivorous birds.  Seedlings frequently are deposited by birds.

Also known as golden figs, strangler figs trees are a larval host plant for fig sphinx (Pachylia ficus) moths and the ruddy daggerwing (Marpesia petreus) butterfly shown below in a photo taken at ORCA on 2-27-2016 by Ken Gonyo (Class of 2012) …

Strangler figs sometimes get a bad rap.  They are hurricane-adapted and rarely blow over in high winds because of their very vigorous root system.  Their roots can be damaging to septic tanks, drain fields, and wells and are capable of cracking concrete or stone. Properly sited with plenty of space, a strangler fig can be an appropriate addition to your landscape.

Strangler figs belong to the mulberry family, Moraceae, as do mulberry trees.

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