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#16 - Golden Fig

On the South end of the property, where the mangrove forest meets brackish marsh, you can find a stately golden fig (Ficus aurea), aka strangler fig. This large tree grows to be 70 feet tall and can most commonly be found around the coast in the Southern half of the state in hammocks and on the backside of beach dunes, either epiphytically (growing on other plants, see photo) or free standing without support.

As an epiphyte, golden fig seeds often sprout in the boots of sabal palms (Sabal palmetto) where they are deposited by birds and small mammals. Eventually the seedling will send its aerial roots down from the crown of its host plant until it touches soil. From there on it will slowly wrap itself around the trunk and often outcompete the host for light and nutrients. The many deep crevices between the aerial roots that give the tree structural support, provide excellent habitat for reptiles and insects.

Have you ever seen a fig flower? There is at least a good chance you have eaten some before. The inflorescence (a cluster of flowers) of fig trees is a so called syconium, which is most commonly referred to as the fruit that consists mostly of the thickened part of the flower stem, also known as the receptacle (from the Latin word for “reception”).

Only one very specific species of insect is able to enter these structures to pollinate the tiny flowers inside. The golden fig has an obligate mutual relationship with the tiny wasp Pegoscapus mexicanus (see photo; scale in mm) that can only reproduce in the flowers of the golden fig. The female wasp enters the syconia of the tree from a tiny opening (or ostiole) on the underside to deposit her eggs into the individual flowers. When the eggs hatch the male wasps mate with the females inside the syconium before they exit through openings that the males bore through the wall. Before the female leaves though she sticks pollen from the male flowers to her body which will pollinate the syconium of the next tree when she deposits her eggs.

Sometimes it simply takes some time and a closer look to see dramatic events in nature beyond more obvious examples like the bald eagle and Florida panther.

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