The Perverse Life of a Fig Tree

Jill Harness

For most people, figs are little more than a tasty source of nutrients. But in the forest, they can be a cornerstone to the ecosystem, providing insects, primates, birds and everything in-between with a healthy source of delicious, easy-to-get treats. But one species of fig feeds the forest only through a decidedly dark life cycle.

The strangler fig has an incredibly apt name. The seeds are spread by bird droppings and the trees start growing high in the trunks and branches of other, established forest trees. As it grows, so do its roots, which eventually stretch all the way to the ground. When the roots touch the ground, the tree starts cutting into the bark of its host tree, sucking up valuable nutrients. As it expands, it blocks the other tree from the rays of the sun. Eventually the fig completely encompasses the host tree, using it for additional support.

As if all this weren't bad enough, the pollination of the figs requires a sick act of death and incest by a symbiotic wasp species that depend on the figs for their own reproduction. Learn more about the disturbingly fascinating process in this wonderful article on The Quantum Biologist.