Now, to the baron of the jungle plants - the King of hostile botanical takeovers.We are looking straight up the trunk of one of the jungle behemoths, a massive tree stretching 100 feet or more skyward. And it's doomed. Those pipe-like stems along the side that resemble water pipes are the start of a Strangler Fig, of the genus Ficus. There are several species and I'm not sure which one this is, but no matter, they behave similarly. This fig is not growing UP the tree from the ground - it is growing DOWN from the canopy. It begins life growing as an epiphyte high in the canopy, from seeds deposited, most likely, by a bird or possibly a mammal like a Kinkajou or monkey. After a while, it enters the primary hemi-epiphyte stage, when the plant sends down water-seeking roots, which eventually reach the ground and root. Depending on the height of the tree, it might take several years for the roots to touch down.
A bit closer view on those aerial roots. Note how they send out lateral roots which encircle the host tree's trunk. The strangulation has begun in this rather grisly botanical death battle. I felt and shook those aerial roots, and I can report that they feel just like steel rods. I'm told these roots are dense enough to quickly dull the teeth of a saw.
Stage Three, strangulation, is well under way and nearly complete in this specimen. By now, the strangler fig has enwrapped its host completely, and is the figs roots are melding together as one.Finally, the fourth and last stage has been reached. The fig is a free-standing tree in its own right, the once numerous strangling roots having fused as one. The host, once enclosed inside, has largely rotted away, leaving the interior hollow. The crown of the fig is leafy, and it produces flowers and fruits. It may actually be overshading by the nearly mature fig's crown that shades out and puts the final knockout blow on the host.
No one said life in the jungle is easy, even if you are just a plant.
Several people have asked me if I was ever going to try and condense my photos from three trips worth of Costa Rica into some sort of coherent program. I am, and will have a visual journey through Costa Rica from Caribbean to Pacific ready soon. I'll be giving this PowerPoint program on April 9 at 1:00 pm in Worthington, Ohio. It'll be at the meeting of the Worthington Hills Garden Club, and they are a lively and welcoming bunch. With advance notice, anyone is welcome and they'll even serve you an excellent lunch, if you choose, for a nominal fee.
If you would like to attend, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll see that you are included.
Be tolerant if I don't reply very fast, though. I'm leaving for the jungles of Guatemala for a spell this Saturday.