Garden Word of the Day
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Another name for your household ficus tree or weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) is strangler fig.
Strangler figs get their name because their seeds germinate on the branches and trunks of other trees, as well as boulders, buildings, and soil. As roots emerge, they wrap around their host, strangling them.
Strangler figs are not always the bad guys. In many cases, the host tree ends up gaining strength against storms from this exterior structure. I don’t know that the relationship is so benign when they start battling for sunlight.
Most of these trees produce both male and female flowers. Their fruits are inverted inflorescences, called syconia, that have mutualistic relationships with specific wasp species. Leaves are broad and waxy. Strangler fig trees, in particular, are hemiepiphytes.
Unlike most plants, strangler fig roots start out by growing aboveground. This makes them something called hemiepiphytes [hemi-EP-ifits]. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants without being parasites. Air plants, many ferns, and orchids are epiphytes.
Strangler fig fruit
Your garden variety fig tree (F. carica) is not a strangler, though they are cousins. Some strangler fig tree fruits are delicious. Some of them are pretty bland. Banyan tree figs taste awful, but they won’t hurt you. Wherever they grow, strangler fig trees are important food sources for native fruit-eating birds who, in turn, spread the seeds near and far.
These trees make very nice house plants. Unless they are native to your region, they do not belong outside because they can easily become invasive and disrupt the local ecosystem.
Note: If your ficus tree keeps dropping its leaves, give it more water and be sure it’s near a sunny window.
Now you know.
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