Large Strangler Fig growing in Minnamurra Rainforest, NSW.
Australia has some amazing trees. Some of the most bizarre are the Strangler Figs.
Strangler Figs have an unusual life because they start out growing on another tree. It works like this: A bird eats some fruit from a mature fig and then flies off to sit in the fork of another tree. When the bird leaves some droppings behind the fig seeds in the droppings sprout and a tiny new fig tree starts growing in the fork of the host tree. Eventually, the fig might become much larger than its host tree and become one of the new forest giants. The picture above shows a typical large Strangler Fig.
The story of the Strangler Fig and its unfortunate host are shown in the diagrams below.
A tiny seedling sprouts in the fork of another tree. The seedling sends roots snaking down the tree trunk
As the young fig grows, the roots wrap around the host tree all the way to the ground.
The roots almost completely envelope the base of the host tree. The host tree dies and the fig becomes a new giant tree
In the three pictures below you can see different stages of the strangling process. In the picture at far right only a small portion of the host tree is visible
You might occasionally find a Strangler Fig like the one at right. In this example, the host tree inside has completely rotted away, leaving a towering hollow mesh of fig tree. Notice that you can see right through the trunk.
The Angophora costata shown in the pictures at right was photographed in Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park. It first grew out of a crack in a cliff face. Then as it got older its base spread over the surrounding rock, giving the impression the tree was melting and flowing down the cliff. One time I visited this tree I was unimpressed to notice that someone had carved his initials into it. I dedicate the cartoon below to that person.
During a bizarre splurge of construction, in which the national park’s natural beauty was plastered with a disturbing outbreak of new toilet blocks, car parks, stairs and metal railings, this tree found itself fenced off from the public. Which I think is a pity. I’m all in favour of making nature accessible in a safe way, but not if making it accessible is done in a way that wrecks or obscures the very beauty you went to see. In my opinion, the new high metal fence (which would make these photos impossible today) detract greatly from the area and after visiting this tree so many times over more than 20 years I admit to feeling disappointed. It’s a bit like visiting the Mona Lisa to find that someone has covered the masterpiece with a great big expensive sign saying, ‘Welcome to the Mona Lisa’. Accessibility gone mad. Thankfully I have the photos shown above to remember how good it used to be.
One tree that made a big impression on me was the lovely big old Angophora costata shown at right. I took this pic when the tree was still alive. It towered over the surrounding forest and had a very impressive, large base. To give a rough idea of its size, that’s my old hat alongside it. Shortly after I took this photo the tree was savagely trimmed into a symmetrical shape, perhaps in an effort to minimise the chance of branches falling onto people. I was annoyed to see what had been done, because in producing a geometric ‘neat’ shape, the healthy branches were chopped off and the dead wood was left intact! Within a couple of weeks of that happening the tree was dead.
That tree was killed before its time, although I am certain it would be dead by now anyway. Because, on the side of the trunk which you can’t see in this photo, there were several fruiting bodies of fungus growing out of it. That’s always a sign that the fungus has spread throughout that part of the tree, indicating that it is rotting and being eaten away from the inside. When there’s fungus growing out of a tree trunk I don’t think there’s much you can do to save it.
You want to be careful driving down the middle of this road. I guess this is what happens if you don’t get around to fixing a pothole.
This shows why it’s not a good idea to plant a Camphor Laurel next to your driveway. They can get big and their root system can form a giant mound that lifts whatever’s above it. These kids in the Royal National Park had a great time crawling over the tree. The Camphor Laurel, though, is considered a noxious pest in many areas.
This impressive big tree was poisoned by vandals and had to be removed for public safety. One of the rangers told me she thought the vandals were trying to prevent the tree’s seeds from spreading into the nearby bush.
You can usually look at the base of a tree and figure out how it grew, but to use an awful pun, this one had me stumped.
The River Red Gums in South Australia are having a rough time, with drought and high temperatures. To make things worse, they’re not receiving the occasional floodwaters which once nurtured them. So I was happy to find these old photos which I took in about 1995, showing some big River Reds in good health. The one on the left is so old that its trunk had divided into three. The one on the right was just plain big.
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