The Stranglers

Strangler figs are a common sight here, often found sprouting on the walls of abandoned buildings. Patrick Le Blanc has some photos of Ficus Religiosa doing exactly that on his inspiration page, as one source of his ideas for developing his renowned vertical gardens.

Here, we seem to see more Ficus Benjamina, which if left unsupervised will quickly wrap masonry with its vicious tentacles. We also see many trees in their murderous grip, the photo on the left being one taken after, when the deed is done. The strangler, seeds itself somewhere in the branches of the host tree, wrapping itself around its host until its own canopy along with its crushing tendrils kill it, replacing the tree that was once there. The photo is poignant as its a photo taken at my childhood home. Once there was a Cajeput tree there, a native to this region related to the Tea tree. Now, this giant unrecognizable Banyan, is the only thing left standing as the old house was also recently torn down.

In the empty plot that is adjacent to mine, what was once the property of a ballet school, there are some large Ficus Benjamina that I can see from my house and it represents something different altogether. It is the perch of hundreds of birds that frolic daily in its branches enjoying its regularly bounty of small berries. As urbanization continues to clear oases of natural vegetation like this one and the fauna that survive in it, it is is a joy to watch this vibrant hum of natural wild activity.

Something about the rampancy of how these trees grow speaks of the tropics and what I find is a huge challenge gardening here - how quickly things get out of hand. Suddenly before you know it there's a tree growing in the wall that you can no longer dislodge. There were a couple such trees growing on the outside of my southern wall which by the time I got round to checking, were huge.

I ripped them off, gouged out what I could of their insidous roots and dragged them back home. No mean feat as the larger of the two is about 12 feet tall. I shoved them into a couple of large pots and though they are complaining bitterly with a massive leaf drop, I'm hoping they'll get over it and I will have some badly needed instant shade for the dark verandah.

Looking at all the dropped leaves, I am reminded of the large Ficus benjamina I had in my rented London room a few decades ago, for which I paid a small fortune which would similarly drop all its leaves after a particularly bad spate of neglect but could be cajoled back to life after a little TLC. Back then I didn't even know that this popular houseplant was native to my home country where I am now and see these strange creatures everywhere.

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