Ficus. The word brings to mind many things – the juicy sweetness of a ripe, freshly picked fig; the summer heat of any tropical or Mediterranean setting; fertility. But recently, Ficus means one thing to me: strangler figs. This may sound morbid, and in a branchy way, it is. Many species of ficus begin their lives epiphytically – generally after a seed is dropped by a bird or arboreal mammal onto the upper branches of what will become a host tree. Over time, the seeds will germinate and sprout aerial roots, which make their way to the ground by either hanging freely or by crawling down the host tree’s trunk. It is not at all uncommon in Indian forests to see roots hanging from the canopy.
Despite the above description of genetically seeded sociopathic plant behavior, I don’t consider these plants to be morbid or destructive, any more than I do a Venus Flytrap or carnivorous Pitcher Plant.
Even if I felt it was fair to judge the Titan Arum by its corspe-like perfume, I wouldn’t. Not only does the objective beauty of the plant override any revulsion I might feel towards it – the fact that this plant evolved to fill a niche in its ecosystem and survive in it is an awe-inspiring one. That said, I’ve never actually smelled a Titan Arum, and it could be overwhelming. My own olfactory opinions notwithstanding, I believe that strangler figs are every bit as fascinating and efficient in their life processes as any other plant. Their parasitism is not as impeaching as it seems at first – they are very much present throughout the world, and have been for eons. Humans and plants are different – if not fundamentally biologically, then behaviorally. Therefore, I feel safe to say, in good humor: the strangler figs must be doing something right.