Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Baobabs and Zambezi Figs working together

Baobabs and Zambezi Figs working together

Baobabs and Zambezi Figs working together


Many trees coppice, producing shoots from a cut stem, one of which often outgrows the others to eventually become a tree, but this seldom happens in a baobab, Adansonia digitata. But here is an example of it having done so. In this instance there is a double interest. A strangler fig has established itself. Strangler figs are not parasites since they don’t take any nourishment out of the tree, they just use it for support.

The fig seed was dropped, probably by a bird, and has germinated in the soil which had accumulated in the middle of the trunk. Having germinated, it has starting sending out aerial roots which will become true roots when they reach the ground. On this occasion it hasn’t very far to go.

This is the beginning of a Zambezi fig, Ficus bussei, one of the huge strangler fig trees familiar to visitors to Mana Pools and along the mid- and lower Zambezi Valleys. Those trees probably started in a similar fashion with the seed dropped into the fork of a tree. This germinated and sent down aerial roots which twined themselves around the host tree until they reached the ground when they became underground roots.

The aerial sections of the roots gradually expanded, thickened and strengthened until they literally squeezed the host tree to death by destroying the phloem which is just under the bark - effectively ring-barking the tree. With those huge trees in the Valley this happened so long ago that it is no longer possible to see the original tree. In the second picture the centre is now hollow where the original host-tree was, and it is possible to walk through the arch.

More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Know your trees

More from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (December 2013)

More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Kariba & Middle Zambezi Destination Profile