Moreton Bay Figs

Image via Akseli Koskela
After backing-up the length of a football field I managed
to fit an entire tree into the frame. 
Oak trees are not native to Australia and are therefore quite a rare sight in Sydney. Which is something of a shame as they really are mighty trees and quite spectacular to look at. They are also particularly tree-like, I often think the oak embodies a sort of Platonic essence of trees. But for all that, we do have an equally impressive tree in Sydney, which for what it lacks in Platonic tree essence, more than makes up for in tree character.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Esther looking-up at a lichen-covered ancient fig. The
side of me prone to hyperbole likes to compare it to some
sort of gnarled-old-man of the forest, as if from one
of the works of Tolkien. 
Moreton Bay figs are common across a great swathe of the Eastern Seaboard of Australia. The planners of Rose Bay, whoever they were, in there infinite wisdom thought to plant rows of these mighty Figs along the harbour-side promenade and in Lyne Park and whenever I go to the Rose Bay Ferry Wharf I get a chance to marvel at the Gothic colonnade formed by these trees.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A Gothic colonnade of Moreton Bay figs.
Image via Akseli Koskela
Is there not something altogether monstrous about the
proportions of these trees -- whose limbs, thanks to their
buttressing roots, are able to to stretch long boughs
towards you from so far away?
What’s more, these old figs around Rose Bay are not unimpressive in size either. The cathedral arches, medieval buttresses and architectural proportions of these trees were not the only ways in which they reminded me of the Notre-Dame de Paris -- trying to get a photo which captured the entire tree, I was transported back to a memory of having to keep walking further and further backwards, till Esther, standing at the doorway, was a barely visible ant, trying to get the whole Cathedral in one photo.

Image via Akseli Koskela
The Moreton Bay fig betrays its murderous intentions
in the aerial roots it sends down from its upper boughs.
Although these particular figs were planted, generally the Moreton Bay fig is what is called an “epiphyte”. In the world of trees, this means the tree is a “strangler”, the seeds find there way into the boughs of other trees high-up in the canopy thanks to the birds who eat the figs, from there, with access to plenty of sunshine, the trees send roots back down to the earth; twisting and coiling their way around the torso of the host tree as they do so. Eventually, smothered within the choking embrace of this Gothic enclosure, the host tree is no longer able to get any sunlight and dies. In particularly old strangler figs, the host tree rots away completely leaving an empty cavernous space, like a crypt or sepulchre for the forgotten host tree.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A young Moreton Bay fig beginning its life in the
crevice of a host tree -- and you thought it looked cute.
Although the Moreton Bay Figs that I photographed stand innocent, you can see their murderous intent in the aerial roots that they drop from their branches. Perhaps a bit more malign than your everyday oak, but it seems strangely fitting for a continent that was to be the home of a colony settled by convicts.
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7 comments:

JJ said...

Fascinating. They look like the Banyan trees in Key West, Florida.

Akseli Koskela said...

Yes I believe there's a "strangler fig" native to your part of America too, JJ.

Judie said...

Akseli, this is a most interesting post! The trees are so fascinating in their shape and the way they take over other trees, but do they bear fruit? Or are they like the weeping fig (ficus benjamina)? Just curious.

ISRAEL CARRASCO said...

Those are some big ass trees.

Akseli Koskela said...

Hey Judie, according to Wikipedia they do bear an edible fruit. However, I and everyone else I know, considers the fruit good for nothing except annoying pederstrians by getting stuck in the grooves of your shoes after they've fallen onto to the pavement.

Israel, yes my sentiments exactly.

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