Strangler figs are epiphytic Ficus trees that grow in the canopies of other trees. Several Ficus species exhibit this growth habit including F. aurea, citrifolia and benghalensis (the world's largest banyan tree).
This banyan tree is growing in Florida at the Naples Zoo.
These trees do not actually strangle their victims, though their massive, sometimes curving, adventitious roots appear to be doing exactly that.
Banyan trees (another name for strangler fig trees) kill the trees they grow on by hogging all the light.
Plants need a certain amount of light in order to eat. Without it they cannot photosynthesize their food and they die.
How Does a Strangler Fig Tree Come to Live in Another Tree?
Ficus aurea* produces a half inch long, oval-shaped yellow fruit that have earned it the common name, golden fig. Golden fig seeds sprout easily. They can be carried into the canopy of another tree by birds or any small animals that climb into trees.
The seed sprouts in the host tree’s canopy and begin to grow. The young banyan lives as an epiphytic vine until its roots grow long enough to reach the ground. Once they touch soil, banyan roots take hold quickly and spread.
The adventitious roots become trunks and give the tree the strength to develop a large canopy of its own. The densely foliated crown of the golden fig shades out the crown of the host tree. Even if this did not kill the host, the weight of the mature banyan would. The banyan tree leaf is evergreen and oval-shaped. The leaves are arranged alternately on the tree’s stems.
F. aurea can easily reach a height and spread of 60-70 feet. Secondary roots will keep growing from the main branches of the tree to the ground causing it take over more and more real estate.
The shiny dark green leaves cast a welcome shade in a hot climate and the tree is amazingly easy to grow. It is drought tolerant and will take any amount of pruning. It makes a nice house plant and can even be trained into a banyan bonsai tree.
It is winter hardy outdoors in zones 10b and 11.
When planted in the open ground these massive trees must be carefully sited. You don’t want one anywhere near concrete or underground pipes.
Planting a strangler fig tree in your landscape means regular maintenance:
Ficus tree bark is easily damaged by lawn maintenance equipment.
The twigs look just like those of the common edible fig and the fruit look like miniature edible figs.
On the plus side, Strangler figs are tolerant of a variety of soils, resist insect pests, and are moderately tolerant of salt spray. You could literally plant one, water it a few times, and walk away. The strangler fig's trunk is also very showy which makes this tree a desirable landscape ornament to some gardeners.
It will grow into a beautiful specimen if properly maintained.
The largest banyan tree in the world (or at least the widest) resides in the Indian Botanical Gardens near Kolkata, India. This tree’s age is estimated at 200-250 years. In 1925 it was struck by lightning and a portion of its middle had to be removed.
Because of this, it is not strictly categorized as a single tree anymore. This tree is a F. benghalensis.
The largest banyan tree in the United States is a popular tourist attraction in Lahaina, Maui’s Courthouse Square. It was planted on April 24, 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Protestant Mission in Lahaina.
The tree was 8 feet tall at that time. Today it is 60 feet tall and spreads over a city block. It looks more like a forest than one tree. When Tiny and I were there a few years ago, an arts and crafts fair was going on in its shade. This is in keeping with the tree’s historical use.