How Long Does the Strangler Fig Tree Live For?
Strangler figs are known because of their ability to carry on other trees, basically strangling them under new growth and often snuffing them out. Ten species of Ficus around the world have this unusual growth habit and therefore are called “strangler.” The only one that grows native in the USA is that the Florida strangler fig (Ficus aurelea).
The Strangler Fig
The strangler fig is a part of the Moraceae, or mulberry family. The leaves are evergreen and blooms are red or yellow. Blooms first appear in March and fruit during August. The yellowish fruits give the Florida strangler fig its other common name, the golden fig. The seeds germinate on top of other trees, expanding roots downward and branching upward to reach sun. Sometimes the host tree will remain on, but often dies because of lack of sunlight once the strangler fig reaches the canopy. If the tree dies, then it finally will decay under the fig, leaving a hollow space within the bark. All these spaces are considered sacred in many cultures and have also been turned into temples in India.
Even though a Florida native, the strangler fig is acceptable for increase in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9 through 11. It likes tropical, swampy areas that are usually of high elevation. The strangler fig needs full sunlight, but will fight to locate it when it is not readily available. It is well adapted to the understory of forests and also is extremely aggressive in seeking out exactly what it needs to live, often at the cost of other plants surrounding it.
The blooms of this strangler fig are self-fertile and completely contained within a large cavity. There are very particular wasps, Pegascapus jimenezi, that dwell inside the bloom cavities, reproduce within them and finally soften the blooms. Once pollinated, each small flower within the cavity creates a little fruit that grows in little bunches. The little, round seedy fruits start green and ripe to soft purple fruits about 3/4-inches in diameter.
The strangler fig’s life expectancy is long. International species like Ficus citrifolia and Ficus benghalensis have been known to grow for centuries. One of the oldest specimens in the USA is a Ficus benghalensis, commonly called a Banyan tree, imported from India to Maui and implanted in 1873. By 2013, the tree stood 60 feet tall and has a spread spanning an entire city block. Species around the world have been known to live for hundreds of years, with folktales placing some as old as 1,300 yearsago While not able to put an exact life expectancy on the tree, the indigenous Florida strangler fig is classified as a long-living perennial. With their aggressive nature and capability to overpower most plants and trees in their manner, strangler figs could be expected to outlive the majority of their owners.