By Ngoni Shumba
A strangler fig can make a fascinating sight. One that may even defy logic unless one understands the nature of the tree and its growth pattern.
Otherwise it would be neigh impossible to explain how a tree can weave itself into a monstrous tapestry of co-joined branches – seamlessly connected to form a-frames and a web of roots dangling from every branch.
It’s just magical!
One such tree can be seen in its full splendour in Mutare’s Murambi suburb. But it’s a little maimed after someone cut off some of its dangling roots to prevent them from touching the ground and more than tripling its base.
Stranglers are so named for its pattern of growth upon host trees, which often results in the host’s death. Strangler figs and other strangler species are common in tropical forests throughout the world.
They grow from sticky seeds at the top of the host tree canopy and develop as epiphytes, or plants that grow on another plant, but are not parasites.
The roots grow down to the forest floor where they take root and begin to take nutrients from the soil. Gradually the roots wrap around the host tree, widen, and slowly form a lattice-work that surrounds the host’s trunk.
Once established, the young strangler figs begin sending aerial roots down to the ground, where they quickly dive into the soil and anchor themselves. The roots may dangle from the host tree’s canopy or creep down its trunk.