Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Rainforest Strangler Fig

Some of the tallest trees in the rainforest got there by killing off other trees. These giants are called Strangler Figs and are among the most common trees in the rainforest.

It all begins high in the forest where an abundance of luscious figs are eaten by animals and birds. Troops of monkeys and flocks of parrots join smaller birds to consume this amazing plentiful feast.

If you've ever looked inside a fig, you know they have many seeds. These seeds pass through the birds and animals and get deposited, along with instant fertilizer, in a crevice between the trunk and branch of a tree. There needs to be decayed matter present which will provide the bacteria to break open the coating of the seed.

As it germinates it sends out shoots of roots which move downward toward the forest floor. As it contacts other areas of nutrients, it burrows itself in and soaks up the food. Eventually the roots reach the ground and penetrate forming an underground network that will send nutrients to the shoot that began the process further up the tree, so that it can grow upward toward the sunlight.

When its leaves reach the canopy, they branch out over the host tree, shading it, and slowing its ability to grow and survive. At the same time the fig is sending more and more roots along the trunk of the tree and into the ground.

As roots touch each other they become a coffin for the host tree and eventually the host dies and rots. Not a pretty picture except for the fact that this death creates so much life in the rainforest.

The inside of the tree is used for homes of animals, bats and birds. The many nooks and crannies formed with the roots give homes to insects, spiders, frogs, bats, snakes and birds. The fruit produced, as mentioned, is plentiful and a wide diversity of animals depends on it.

The rainforest is being destroyed by the hour, but strangler figs are left behind because being made up of twisted strands of roots and branches, it has no value to loggers, so the tree is the last hope of survival for a lot of living creatures.

Even the cattle that displaced the forest use them for shade, and they provide hoes and food to those who cannot tolerate living away from the protected shade of the forest itself. Hopefully they will find a place to relocate rather than becoming extinct. Sadly, too often, that is not the case.

These strangler figs are now even more important than they were before the rainforests began to be destroyed.

Reference: Children Save The Rain Forest by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

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