563 Ficus aureaCommon Names: strangler fig, Florida strangler fig Family: Moraceae (mulberry Family)
A strangler fig usually starts out as an epiphyte growing on another tree. Strangler figs flower almost continuously, producing small, spherical "fruits" which are eaten by birds. The birds then spread the seeds in their droppings. The seeds are sticky and attach to a tree (often a cabbage palm as in photo at right - the green vine-like mass hanging against the trunk is the fig). The seeds germinate and the fast-growing fig sends down aerial roots which reach the ground and eventually engulf the host tree. As the roots enlarge the fig becomes self-supporting. The host tree eventually is killed by shading from the profuse branches and leaves. Ultimately the strangler fig becomes a tree itself as the host tree decomposes within the embrace of the strangler's roots. A mature strangler fig can reach more than 60' tall and have multiple trunks. The shiny leaves are thick and leathery, about 4" long and 2" wide. Broken twigs exude a milky sap. The yellowish "fruits" (see Features, below) are about a half inch in diameter.
Strangler fig, Ficus aurea, grows naturally in tropical hardwood forests (called hammocks) of South Florida and the West Indies.
CultureLight: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Moist soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Propagation: Usually by cuttings. The seeds must have light to germinate.
If you live in a tropical climate, strangler fig would make an interesting addition to your landscape. You don't need to start your fig on a tree. You can buy potted strangler figs from any of several native plant nurseries in central and south Florida.
The fig fruit is actually a hollow, globular receptacle with hundreds of small fleshy flowers facing each other on the inside. Figs are pollinated by a tiny specialized wasp that enters the receptacle through a small opening. Each flower inside the receptacle then produces a tiny fruit containing seeds.
The milky sap may cause a skin reaction in some people.
Steve Christman 08/21/99