Most species of ficus found in kenya are monoecious i.e. male and female flowers occur together within a single fig. Locally the strangler fig or the Wild Fig is known as the Mugumo tree.  Ancient Kikuyu tradition holds this tree as a sacred tree, because it was thought that spirits, especially deceased ancestors, dwelt in this tree.  Therefore, when clearing a field for cultivation, the Kikuyu will never cut down a Mugumo tree that happened to be in the field and thus these trees will often grow to be very old. In ancient times, ceremonies and sacrifices were often carried out under large Mugumo trees.

strangler fig tree

The roots grow down to the forest floor where they take root and begin to take nutrients from the soil. Gradually the roots wrap around the host tree, widen, and slowly form a lattice-work that surrounds the host’s trunk. The fig’s crown grows foliage which soon overshadows the tree. Eventually, the host tree dies leaving the fig with a hollow trunk—which is easily climbed thanks to the many openings in the trunk. Figs are often the only tree species remaining after forest clearing, since their knotted and twisted wood is shunned by loggers.

strangler fig tree

strangler tree 1

Almost ironically, this agent of death provides an important niche and food  source to many rain forest creatures. Its hollow trunk,  with an abundance of  nooks and crannies, provide an important home to thousand of invertebrates,  rodents, bats , reptiles, amphibians and birds.  many other species are attracted to the fig trees because  of its production in large amounts of good tasting  fig fruits. These fruits are packed with seeds which are not destroyed when they are consumed, and are passed out in the dung of animals far from the mother tree.  In many forests the fig tree is considered a keystone species since during parts of the year it is virtually the only tree producing fruit.

Fruit at Green Cay Wetlands Boynton Beach, Florida - Credit: Forest & Kim Starr - Plants of Hawaii - Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, permitting sharing and adaptation with attribution.


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