Friday, November 13, 2009

Intriguing World of Figs

Yes, figs. Why figs? Cause I see fig trees all the time on my treks. Fig here, fig there, fig everywhere! I won’t get too scientific or factual – I only know two species names anyway - this is just a post to share some photos and observations I made during my hikes.

Fig trees (Ficus species) are common and widespread here. I see them all the time in almost every jungle I enter. The best known is probably the strangler fig.

strangler fig 3
A strangler fig and a host which has succumbed to the fig’s strangle hold. The host tree has died and has begun to decompose.

I had the opportunity to photograph some strangler figs while in Sarawak’s Mulu National Park recently. Here’s one taken from inside a strangler fig hollow.

strangler fig 1
With the host long gone, all that’s left behind is a basket of roots and a tall standing Ficus. Photographed at Mulu National Park.

strangler fig 2
This is how the fig tree with its basket of roots looks like from the outside.

Most of the fig trees I see in the jungles are those that germinated on the high branches of host trees. The figs then send down roots to the ground. These roots eventually develop into large and strong roots and can easily be mistaken for climbers (ground up) instead of coming down from above.

In my Phalaenopsis Habitat post, I posted pictures of fig trees playing hosts to epiphytes including Phalaenopsis orchids. Those fig trees have already adapted to swamp living and had many aerial roots or stilt roots supporting them and helping them breathe in the flooded areas. Such fig trees are also known as banyan trees.

fig-tree-2
A banyan fig tree with stilt roots in a swamp, playing host to a Phalaenopsis orchid (upper center).

Fig trees provide a food source for many birds and mammals such as hornbills and bearded pigs. In the deep jungle where the photo above was taken, there were two hornbills in the vicinity high in the tree tops. They were calling out to each other noisily but were too obscured by the heavy foliage for any pictures.

Some fig trees such as Ficus variegata bear their fruits right on the trunk. The ripe fruits fall to the ground and are eaten by mammals like deer and bearded pigs. These are also called stem figs since they bear their fruits right on the stem/trunk. This photo below was taken near a riverbank in the jungle.

ficus-fig-tree-fruits
A stem fig tree bears its fruits right on the trunk.

Fig trees are also found on limestone hills. If the seeds germinate there, they then grow into large trees which send out roots which bend around the limestone surface, forcing their way into crevices and through rock.

ficus-fig-tree-roots 1
The large root of a fig tree ramifying over limestone.

ficus-fig-tree-roots 2
The roots of fig trees growing on limestone often force through crevices and cracks to reach the ground.

Then there’s that whole other story of figs and tiny fig wasps. There are certain types of fig wasps which depend on figs for their survival and it’s quite fascinating how they have come to depend on each other over time. I can’t offer any more info than that so  to learn more about the world of fig trees, do the google thing! :D

3 comments:

Edna said...

I love the purple flowers! First glance I thought it's hydrangea flowers.

sarawaklens said...

Edna, the flowers were actually of a Poikilospermum species if I am not mistaken. Not Ficus, sorry for the mistake.

Martin said...

Very interesting. I didn't know that they can germinate also on limestone. Nice pictures.
I saw a hundred years old Ficus in Sumatra. I won't forget that tree forever.

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