Few photographs have captured the biological and cultural splendour of fig trees better than this fantastic shot by Adam Baker of strangler fig roots engulfing a stone carving of the Buddha’s head at Wat Mahathat, a 14-century Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, central Thailand.
Strangler figs grow across the tropics and subtropics, starting out in life high on other trees and sending down aerial roots that merge and split and merge again, dominating all that they encounter. These awesome, eerie plants have become embedded in religion and culture wherever they grow.
It was while meditating beneath a strangler fig that the Buddha attained enlightenment. Throughout Asia, Africa, the Pacific and parts of the Americas, these plants are homes to gods and spirits, places of prayer and ritual. But they are also ecological linchpins, sustaining more species of wildlife than any other trees.
My book —published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven and in North America as Gods, Wasps and Stranglers— tells how fig trees have shaped our world, influenced diverse cultures and can help us restore life to degraded rainforests. Read a summary here.
Credit: I’ve reproduced Adam Baker’s photo with his permission. Check out the original and his other great photography on Flickr.