A fig tree swallowing a warehouse


Roots ooze through windows and cracks between bricks. They pour down walls and pool on the floor. They entwine with remnant beams from the roof their weight has crushed. They seal once-busy doorways and claim the rooms they hide. It’s a strangler fig in action, engulfing an entire building in Taiwan.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting fig trees so was pleased to learn about this specimen known as the ‘Anping treehouse’ in an article by Jenny Zhang.

Strangler figs usually grow on other trees but some are as adept at colonising buildings. This one began its assault on an abandoned warehouse in the 1950s. For decades local people avoided it, heeding folk tales that say spirits lurk among strangler fig roots. The fig was free to thrive.

Those folk beliefs themselves have deep roots. Across large parts of Africa and Asia taboos against harming wild fig trees were once common. In some places they remain. My book* explains the ecological basis for these ancient traditions and describes how fig trees and their powerful roots could bring us future benefits.

* My book was published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven: How fig trees shaped our history, fed our imaginations and can enrich our future. The hardback is out now and the paperback is out in September but is now available to pre-order. The US/Canada edition is called Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The secret history and redemptive future of fig trees. The hardback is out now and the paperback is out in April 2018 (pre-order here).

Photo credits: Flickr: riNux / Creative Commons; Blowing Puffer Fish / Creative Commons; Alexander Synaptic / Creative Commons


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