Strangling should resume in July

(No.1, Vol.2, Jan 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

When the first rain comes and dissipates the muggy atmosphere of the dry season in Southeastern Vietnam, usually in July, thousands species of plants awake from hibernation. Among them are strangler figs. ‘Strangler’ is a scientific word used to show encroachment in a relationship between two close trees in a forest. A common strangler fig in Vietnam is cây đa, Ficus sumatrana Miq.
Ficus sumatrana Miq. begins its life as a hemi-epiphyte [a hemi-epiphyte is a plant that grows above the ground, using other plants or objects for support, and later grows roots down into ground]. After pollination, bunches of a yellow fig fruit appear. Ficus sumatrana Miq.’s fruit is termed a multiple fruit, one formed from a cluster of flowers (inflorescence). The fruit is very sweet and fragrant. It attracts and is eaten by different kinds of animals, including primates and bats. These animals then leave their droppings on trees. The seeds in the droppings sprout with the help of humidity and humus that exists on the branches.
Covering the seeds is a candy-like mucus, which is also a temporary food source for the tree in its first days. Over a period of years, the fig’s roots grow longer and absorb nutrients from the humus on the host’s bark. The roots grow and hug the host’s trunk.
The roots reach the ground, stick to it and the plant grows very fast and reaches higher than the host’s canopy. The roots grow into trunks. The roots have gained purchase in the ground and obtained water and minerals to nourish the whole strangler fig. The fig takes so much sunlight that there is insufficient for the host. Eventually the strangler fig grips the host’s trunk tightly until the latter can no longer deliver nutrients and photosynthesis stops. The host dies. [The author has never seen one strangler fig attacking another. –Ed.]
Ficus sumatrana Miq. is a woody tree, 15 metres to 20 metres high, with a rough, grey bark. The layer next to the cork is white. Notable features include light-brown twigs, no hair, short scars, white resin. Alternate, thick, single leaves, 7 centimetres to 16 centimetres long, 4 centimetres to 7 centimetres wide, oval or egg-line in plan. Male flowers have four oval sepals and no pedicels. The wood is classed as useless. Can be grown as a pot plant.n

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