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Annis, A - Strangler Fig

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago

Ficus aurea

Common name: Florida Strangler Fig, Golden Fig



The Florida Strangler Fig is native to coastal areas of south Florida, the Keys, and the West Indies and central Florida (Strangler Fig…).  Ficus aurea are often found in the hardwood hammocks of the Florida Everglades.  The strangler is not considered an invasive.  Here is a map of the counties in Florida where it can be found:


© 2006 Institute for Systematic Botany Data last modified: 2/20/2008 (Wunderlin c2006)


According to the World Wildlife Fund, Ficus aurea can be found in the Neotropics, and more specifically in Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests.

I choose to report on this plant species because of its very interesting life history.  A friend of mine suggested that I research this tree.  She had an amazing experience of climbing up the inside of a huge strangler (not the exact species written about here) that had long since killed its host which had rotted out.  She had been able to climb up the inside of the tree and the emerge through a hole about a story off the ground and then grab a vine and swing to the ground!   I hope you enjoy the pictures of the stranglers below.

The Florida Strangler Fig is a very interesting plant because of its remarkable reproductive strategy.  Established strangler figs produce a small red fruit that tropical birds consume.  The bird eats the entire fruit, including the seeds.  When birds fly to another tree and pass the seeds of the strangler fig, the seed begins to grow.  In fact the seeds will only grow in the tops of other trees because they need light to grow and will not germinate if planted underground (Bessey 1908).  The strangler fig sends out air roots that collect water and nutrients from the air.  The air roots then grow down and around the bole (trunk) of the host tree.  Once the roots reach the ground, the strangler begins rapidly sending up nutrients and water to the rest of the plant.  When the rest of the fig recieves the many resources, it begins to grow very fast reaching up to 20 meters in height.  The strangler eventually encompasses the entire bole of the host tree.   The strangler then spreads its own branches and leaves out further than the host tree's and in such dense formation that the host tree is shaded out by the strangler and dies (see the third picture below).  After the host tree decays, the strangler is left standing as an autonomous tree with a hollow bole (Kricher 1989).

Stranglers don't just grow on other trees, but can cause troble in other places.  Florida stranglers have been known to grow on buildings an other human structures.  Although the strangler may first appear to be a harmless vine, if it is allowed to grow long enough it can cause serious damage to the structure on which it lives.

Here are some pictures of Ficus aurea:

This is a strangler fig in its beginning stages of growth (Wunderlin c2006).


These are the fruits of the strangler fig (Wunderlin c2006).



This is a perfect example of a strangler that has taken over another palm and will soon shade it out (Wunderlin c2006).



This is an example of a strangler that has shaded and killed its host tree.  The host's trunk has rotted out and now the strangler stands alone.




 Hardwood Hammocks and the Everglades; Home of the Florida Strangler Fig


        According to the World Wildlife Fund, Ficus aurea can be found in the Neotropics, and more specifically in Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests biome. Ficus aurea are found only in the Southern parts of Florida, in hardwood hammocks.  According to the National Park Service, hardwood hammocks are dense stands of broad-leafed trees that grow on natural rises only a few inches in elevation.  Hardwood hammocks are part of the larger Everglades ecosystem.  Also according to the National Park Service, the Everglades used to span from Lake Okeechobee in central Florida all the way down to Florida Bay (the southern most part of Florida). Now only 25% of the historic Everglades remains and is protected as a national park.


        The Southern part of Florida used to be covered in ocean water.  The Everglades are now where old coral reefs used to thrive.  You can still see many large areas of limestone rock that used to be coral reefs.  The Everglades is a large wetland that gets its water from rainfall and Lake Okeechobee, the very large freshwater lake to the Northeast.  Life in the Everglades is maintained by a unique occurrence called sheet flow.  Sheet flow is a slow flow of water over shallow sections of marsh lands.  The flow of shallow water over long grasses is the reason why the Everglades are called the river of grass.  The hardwood hammocks, home of the strangler fig, appear to be islands of trees amidst the river of grass.  The hammocks are elevated just inches above the surrounding marsh areas and are usually home to a very dense and diverse community made up mainly of broad-leafed trees.  Because of their elevation, hammocks do not tend to flood.  The National Park Service reports that decaying plants on the tree islands produce acid that runs off the elevated land and dissolves the limestone surrounding the island.  This creates a deeper moat around the hardwood hammock and protects the tree islands from fires.  So in the middle of a wetland with much water fluctuation and regular fires, hardwood hammocks protect themselves from the extremes.


        The Everglades and the hardwood hammocks nestled therein face many threats.  The Everglades is a very sensitive ecosystem that must have very specific environmental conditions and when these conditions are not met, the Everglades suffers.  One of the threats to the strangler fig’s home is large scale agriculture.  According to worldwildlife.org the large scale agriculture of sugar cane in Southern Florida is having tremendous effects on the Everglades.  The actual land of the Everglades is being cleared for farm use, resulting in a reduction of wetland.  Fertilizer and pesticides are also running off farmland into the waterways and into the Everglades.  This poisoning of the wetlands with fertilizer and pesticides means that new kinds of plants are growing rapidly and out-competing the natural flora of southern Florida.  Also according to worldwildlife.org, the Everglades are being threatened by human interference with waterways.  The natural water flow through the wetlands is disturbed by canals and water management practices.  To decrease flooding in southern Florida, people have diverted great amounts of water to the wetlands of the Everglades.  The increase in water levels and increase in nutrients from fertilizers have helped invasive species out grow their native counterparts.  Probably the greatest and most impending threat to the Everglades is climate change.  The Everglades are very affected by hurricanes.  They also have very low elevation.  So when the sea levels rise, much of the Everglades will be submerged under sea water.


        If we want to protect the Everglades in a more natural state, we need to restore its native flora and end the negative impacts humans have had on the Everglades.  Most importantly, water must be better managed and more land must be protected and returned to the Everglades.  However, we can never fully restore the Everglades to its original form.  We have no way of removing the unnatural levels of chemicals that now harm the ecosystem.  Additionally, if sea levels rise, there will be nothing we can do for the Everglades.



Works Cited

Bessey, Ernst.  1908. The Florida Strangling Figs. Missouri Botanical Garden Annual Report. [Internet]. [cited 2008 Feb 20].  Available from: http://www.jstor.org/view/08933243/di995878/99p0077u/0?searchUrl=http%3a//www.jstor.org/search/BasicResults%3fhp%3d25%26si%3d1%26gw%3djtx%26jtxsi%3d1%26jcpsi%3d1%26artsi%3d1%26Query%3dficus%2baurea%26wc%3don&frame=noframe¤tResult=08933243%2bdi995878%2b99p0077u%2b0%2cB6FF07&userID=84eb2e6c@ohiou.edu/01c0a8346c24d111839b03355&dpi=3&config=jstor

Everglades. [Internet]. [updated 2008 Feb 19].  National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior; [cited 2008 March 2]. Available from: http://www.nps.gov/ever/

Everglades. [Internet]. World Wildlife Foundation; [cited 2008 March 2].  Available from: http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt0904_full.html

Kricher, John 1989. A Neotropical Companion: An Introduction to the Animals, Plants, and Ecosystems of the New World Tropics. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press. p. 41.

Strangler fig  (Ficus aurea) [Internet]. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; [cited 2008 Feb 14].  Available from: http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/Strangler_fig/stranfig.htm

Wunderlin, Dr. Richard. c2006. Ficus aurea. [Internet] [updated 2008 Feb 20]. In: Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants: [cited 2008 Feb 14].  Available from: http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/maps.asp?plantID=2466


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