Strangler Fig growing in Minnamurra Rainforest, NSW.
Australia has some amazing trees and some of the most bizarre are the stranglers.
These trees can eventually become the forest giants but they have an unusual start to life: most of the time they begin by growing on another tree.
It all starts when a bird eats a fig from a mature tree and then flies off to perch in the fork of another tree. Seeds in droppings left behind by the bird can germinate and produce a tiny plant growing in the fork. From here on, the story is explained in the diagrams below.
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.
I took these photos of this Angophora costata growing in Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park in approximately 1990. My guess is it had first grown 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 oozing down the cliff.
I often used to visit this tree to chill out and recharge from the stress of the job I had at the time. So it was one of my favourite places.
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.
Last time I visited that spot I was stunned to see what had happened. During a manic splurge of construction, in which the area’s natural beauty was plastered with an astonishing outbreak of new toilet blocks, more toilet blocks, car parks, stairways and a ridiculous amount of ugly metal railings, this tree found itself fenced off from the public. Mind you, I don’t want to sound too critical — the public was still given full access to a view of the fences.
Now 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 nature you want to access. In my opinion, the new high metal fence (which would make these photos impossible today) make an eyesore out of the area and after visiting this tree so many times over more than 20 years I admit to having left the area feeling gutted. I haven’t gone back either. It’s a bit like going to see your favourite painting in a gallery and having to steal a glimpse at it through a mass of expensive signs that say ‘Welcome to the painting.’ Accessibility gone mad.
Thankfully I have these photos 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. Yeah I know — that hardly makes it look special but for an Angophora it really was.
Shortly after I took this photo the tree was savagely trimmed into a neat symmetrical shape. I was shocked to see what had been done, because the healthy branches had been removed and the dead wood was left attached! Predictably, the tree — the largest Angophora costata I’ve ever seen — immediately died.
Seriously, that marvellous thing was killed before its time, but to be honest, I’m 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 never a good sign. It means fungus has spread throughout that part of the tree, indicating that it’s 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. Still, it would have been nice if the tree had been trimmed in a way that was more helpful than chopping off the healthy bits.
Now you see this is what happens if you don’t repair a pothole. This tree was growing out of the middle of road.
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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