Monday, August 4, 2008

A 'killer' tree

In a fair world, people should feel the same about this photo as they would when shown a picture of a python or a boa constricting its prey. The snake, however, works within our definition of 'real-time'; the strike, the stangulation, the wide opening of jaws and the swallowing of the hapless prey can all happen before our eyes without us getting much older.

This tree works on a similar principle, but it is in no particular hurry. It's life probably began when a seed fell on the canopy of the palmyra. Over the course of a few days, the seed germinated, feeding on the detritus on which it fell. As it grew older, it began growing larger roots, looking for more food than the palm could provide; in a few months, the roots touched the ground. With a source of nourishment found, the tree began to grow bigger: more roots, more branches. In a few years, the palmyra finds itself being wrapped inside a maze of roots. Without meaning to, this tree's roots will crush the palm in... maybe a decade from now. It will take some really time-lapsed photography to show it happening in 'real-time' - and then we would dismiss it as a B-grade movie.

The strangler figs (this one is Ficus bengalensis, if I'm right), though, do not mean to kill. They don't seek out living things for their seeds to fall on. You've probably seen some of them growing in a tiny crack of a building - or the well known images of the temples in Indonesia and Cambodia being crushed. This one though is probably a few centuries away from any building, standing as it does in a rather wild patch of scrub jungle behind - way behind - the Chennai airport!


Anonymous said...

This is a most interesting post.

Hilda said...

I've seen photos of those Cambodian temples with the roots growing on them — they're awe-inspiring. Fascinating post, thank you.

Shantaram said...

>> Abe>> Thank you - glad you liked it!

>> Hilda>> You're welcome!