The Strangler Fig

A palm tree surrounded, nay, engulfed by a fig growing all around it


Epiphytes are plants which live their lives away from the soil.

They need no roots dug into the ground. They typically grow in the canopy of larger trees, sometimes from man made creations like roadside signage or telephone wires. They absorb what they need from the air, and often don’t damage their host tree.

The strangler fig is an exception.

Somewhere in Florida’s swamplands a sprouting fig tree is just getting started in the tops of a Sabal Palm. Over the next few decades he’ll begin growing branches, but not upwards and outwards, rather down, down, down the trunk of the Palm, until finally those branches reach the ground and dig in, becoming roots now.

The process will continue until the fig has completely encompassed the palm, either actually strangling it or just shading it out.

Something lives, something dies.

In either case, I see the palm as a burning bright rock and roll star. His chances of ever becoming more than a sapling were thin to begin with, considering palms have as hard if not harder a time than real trees at making it into maturity. At the same time, Floridians tend to groom their environment as their whim suits, and so he easily could have been barreled over or uprooted at any time.

But he’s hardy, and willing to suffer both drought and heat. So he worked hard for what he had.

And then time caught up, time going by the name of an epiphyte.

But he was relentless. He could see the end coming with each millimeter the fig grew toward the ground. Even as he stands now, his own trunk completely surrounded by the strangler fig, he’s majestic.

But his time is coming to an end. He will not burn out, he’ll fade away in the shadow of the plant to which he played host.