Stranglers and other strange figs

Who gives a fig? Well, dried figs make lovely presents in some cultures, and most of our Daintree species are edible, yet small and more suited to jam-making. Some are toxic, so don’t try any yourself.

Here in the Daintree we have 30 species of figs. Quite a few, but not as many as the 1000 or so world species.

Emmagen Creek strangler fig

Someone once asked me which was the most populous tree in the rainforest. I don’t believe anyone has counted, but I believe it could be the fig. By any measure of weirdness, size and diversity, figs figure highly.

Figs (the Ficus family) figure among the most spectacular and stately trees in the rainforest. Their branches often stick out above the canopy, a target for high wind gusts and attractive to birds and fruit bats!

Some types are called stranglers.  Strangler figs start life as an epiphyte high in a host tree, as a germinated seed dropped (pooped) by a bird or fruit bat. Then its roots crawl down the host tree, reaching the ground and spreading far out to support its growing weight. In the process, the roots merge together on the tree itself. In a very few cases, the fig can become so large and invasive by surrounding and tightening its rooty grips, the host can’t get nutrients and eventually can die, leaving just the  fig tree with airholes!


Bumpy satinash cauliflory “trunk flower”

Then there are various variegated figs (pun again intended); cluster figs; and hairy figs which are all cauliflorous, which means that the fruit grows on the trunk and branches.

Cocoa, jackfruit, and bumpy satin ash are all examples of cauliflorous plants. Cauliflory is a process that happens throughout tropical rainforests, and presumably makes it easier for pollination by ground insects and birds.

Specimens of interesting figs are at the Daintree Discovery Centre;  Marrja Boardwalk; near Emmagen Creek just past Cape Tribulation; and, most spectacular and diverse of all, at Thompsons Creek, along the Bloomfield Track near Wujal Wujal.

Wujal Wujal is an Indigenous community  famous for its wonderful creative people, artwork,  and waterfall.


The Wujal fig outside the Community Centre is not a strangler , but a type known as a banyan. Banyan, like strangler, is not a species, but  descriptive of several species that have aerial roots which take root and become min-trunks which might spread out many metres. A great shade tree. Australia once had a Prime Minister knicknamed “Banyan Bob” ( Menzies) as he didn’t want the light to shine on any of his Ministers!

Mural at Wujal Wujal Sports Centre through aerial fig roots

In an accompanying photo, there’s a rainforest mural at the Wujal Wujal Community Centre through banyan hanging roots Banyan-style figs grow differently, by developing many inter-connected trunks, and some drop stringlike roots from the tips of branches, like the Curtain band cathedral Figs near Yungaburra on the Atherton Tableland.


Join me on a 4WD tour up the Bloomfield Track to Wujal Wujal and check out a few figs alive and in full technicolour.

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