Bark for Bark’s Sake – Boots and Strangler Figs

I was looking at trees (perhaps an unfortunate habit) this morning as I walked my dogs and it occurred to me the bark on some of these tropical trees I pass everyday is different from bark in northern climes. Especially Palm Trees, palms do some funky things.

Cabbage Palm with Boots Palmetto sabal

Cabbage Palm with Boots
Palmetto sabal

Palm trees are available in some varieties booted, which means the bases of the old leaves have been left on purpose. While it is graphically interesting, I think this looks kind of messy and a lot of weird plant and animal life tends to go into the boots and proliferate – I had my Cabbage Palm’s trunk cleared off and there was a 6 foot snake living in the trunk. Another peculiarity growing in the boots is the Strangler Fig.

Strangler Fig

Strangler Fig trunk

There is a big Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea) beside my house between me and my neighbor. It looks a bit like something that would be growing at Hogwarts, where Harry Potter went to school.

Ficus aurea Strangler Fig

Ficus aurea
Strangler Fig

The trunk is probably 10 or 15 feet wide, including its aerial rooted trunks, at least 50 feet wide and probably a bit less on the height. I would love to know how old it is.

These trees are native to South Florida on both coasts and common in several habitats but not in the trade. They start life in the boots of palms or in cups of Bromeliads growing on the ground. The fruit is produced copiously and is the size of blueberries, as with many tropical fruits, not particularly good to eat, but the birds enjoy it and transport it around to grow new Strangler Figs. The reason these are called Strangler Figs is they can literally strangle the palm as they grow down the trunk hit the ground and put roots down, then overwhelm the tree and grow over and around it eventually strangling it.

This is a photo of a Strangler Fig reaching down from the Cabbage Palm:

Fig coming down

Fig coming down

Sleeping under the shade of a palm doesn’t seem like such a good idea now…