Before the European explorers set their feet on Africa, this giant landmass was known as the Dark Continent by the people of Europe. Actually, Africa wasn’t a dark continent at all. Instead, the Europeans were in the dark since they had no knowledge about Africa. In the 15th century, some Portuguese explorers reached the shores of Africa for the first time. During their exploration, they came across a variety of birds, animals, insects and plants species which they had never seen before. They jotted down about strange creatures in their diary, and shared their experiences when they came back to their respective homelands. The narration, course was spiced up with a bit of exaggeration In order to make it sensational. Among many fairytale like stories they narrated, one was that of a tree which devours humans!
Today, we know that no such trees exist in Africa — or any part of the world. What the 15th and 16th century explorers said about the so-called man-eating trees was more of a fiction than a fact! Nevertheless, their narration cannot be completely ignored. As a matter of fact, certain species of plants and trees do exist in the world which though do not devour human beings, yet feast on other species of plants and trees. These trees creep around the trunk of other trees and alter reaching a particular height, they actually strangulate them. Once the tree is ‘victimized’ it is reduced to nothing.
It is hard to digest the fact that one tree actually kills another, but it is true. A species of tree, aptly called strangler fig, exists in Africa and all tropical rain forests of the world. It belongs to the category of Ficus and is similar to the banyan and peepal trees. The only difference is that the strangler fig initially grows in the form of a creeper and grows into an actual tree with the help of another tree next to it. Once Stranger fig grows in full, it destroys the very tree around which it had crept and grown. After the strangler fig ‘strangulates’ its victim, it blooms to its fullest and bears fruits. The fruits are consumed by birds, squirrels, monkeys and other creatures along with the seeds. They cannot digest the hard seeds, but the outer shell of the seed is dissolved in their stomach during digestion. The ‘uncovered’seeds are then excreted by them.
The seeds germinate in new grounds in a few days. A shoot erupts from the seed and it starts growing by climbing around the nearest tree. Gradually it starts sucking the sap from the victim and gains extra strength along with the nourishment it receives from the ground through the roots. This double whammy situation of the strangler fig tree creates double trouble for the victim and leads to its faster death. Firstly, due to the presence of the strangler fig, it is deprived of proper nutrition from the soil. Secondly, whatever food it photosynthesizes for itself is also sucked away by the strangler fig. To further add to its crisis, the strangler fig tightly strangulates the tree which further prevents the water and other important minerals from reaching every part of the tree. As a result,the leaves dry and wither away and finally the entire tree dries up. The place where it once grew in full bloom reduces to nothing but a hollow space.
The strangler fig grows in this place and bears fruits which are then eaten by birds, squirrels and monkeys. They spread the seeds in another area, and so, more trees fall victim to strangler fig. There is little sunlight and water on the tropical rainforest ground, so the strangler fig has found a way to avoid being deprived of solar energy and water by growing on other trees — and then killing them too!