Species Spotlight - The Stranger Fig

We want to introduce you to one tree in particular which is common to this subtropical area of the big scrub. Under the canopy, established rainforests can be quite dark, with little chance and long waits for a new opportunity to claim a spot in the sun.. So for some species a different way of life is taken.. It all starts when a bird eats a fig from a mature tree and then flies off to perch in the fork of another. The sticky seeds from the fig cling to clefts and crotches high up in another tree’s canopy. It sprouts and gets its first nutrients from sunlight filtering through the canopy, rainfall and leaf litter on the host tree. At this stage it is called an epiphyte, a plant that grows on another plant, which are common in rainforests. Once established, the young strangler figs begin sending long, aerial roots down to the ground, these could travel 30 metres as long whispering strands, hanging or wriggling down the trunk of the host tree.. This use of energy is a huge risk, the plants body is almost entirely huge long roots and they must dive into the soil and anchor themselves as soon as possible, the leaf body is under tremendous stress, trying to feed 30 metres of roots with just 1 or 2 metres of leaf body.. Once in contact with the ground, the fig enters a growth spurt, plundering moisture and nutrients that the host tree needs.

The stranger fig roots starting from the top of the tree and reaching down to the forest floor, slowly surrounding and suffocating the host tree.

Meanwhile back in the canopy, the strangler fig’s leaf body grows and having already started its life high in the tree can spread its wide leaves over those of the host and steal it’s sun patch... allowing them to harvest the solar energy they need to convert from a long rooted plant sitting in the canopy, to the next stage.. Their roots running down the host tree, start to shoot off new tendrils at right angles, and grip right around the tree.. It starts to form a net over the host, and it thickens and tightens.. cutting off the hosts supply of food and water.. Eventually this kills the host tree, sometimes lifting them out of the ground, hanging several tons of wood in mid-air and consuming them. A person can climb the hollow internal lattice left by the consumption of the host tree in many cases, even in Strangler Figs that are 1000 years old. They become some of the largest rainforest trees, called emergents, because they grow out and over the rest of the rainforest canopy at a mature 50 metres in height.

A mature stranger fig with many roots reaching the ground forming a stable base