Ficus aureaThe Strangler Fig
Order: Urticales
Family: Moracaea
Genus: Ficus



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An interior view of Ficus Aurea at San Luis de Monteverde, Costa Rica



RANGE AND ABUNDANCE:
Ficus aurea is more commonly known as the Florida strangler fig, golden fig, or higueron. The fig is found in central-southern Florida, including the Florida Keys, southern Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. In Florida, it mostly grows in woodlands known as hammocks. It is one of two native fig species in Florida.

HABITAT:
Its habitat ranges from tropical deciduous forest, tropical semi-evergreen forest, tropical evergreen forest, cloud forest, and in aquatic habitats/coastal areas. It is often found in mangrove swamps in the central and southern Florida peninsula.
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F. aurea at La Selva

COLORATION AND MORPHOLOGY:
Leaf: Simple, entire margins, evergreen, thick and oblong/elliptically shaped, 3-5 inches in length, dark green above, paler below
Flower: Small, roughly 1/3 inch in diameter, found in leaf axils near branch tips, produced inside receptacle
Fruit: Round, 5/8 inch in diameter, no stalk, sticky, fleshy, when ripe it turns red or purplish, produced annually
Twig: Green to orangish brown in coloration, hang with aerial roots, contains white latex sap which can potentially cause a reaction to some humans
Bark: Thin and smooth, can become scaly, dark gray in color
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Ficus aurea leaves


The fig begins its life as an epiphyte, growing on another tree. The fig produces small fruit roughly 5/8 inches in diameter which turns red when ripe. Birds eat the fruit and spread the seeds through their feces. The sticky seeds attach to a tree and germinate spreading its aerial roots down to the ground. These roots take the nutrients and water from the tree. Once they hit the ground, the roots develop their own underground root system, separate from that of the host tree. Eventually, the fig will completely engulf the hosts, which will then die due to shading and lack of sunlight. After strangli
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the fruit of F. aurea
ng its host, the tree can grow up to sixty feet in length and spread twenty-five feet across the canopy.

The fig is sometimes used as an ornamental landscape piece in Florida because of its large size, fast growth, and for the amount of dense shade it provides.

ECOLOGY:
Like all figs
, Ficus aure
a has an obligate mutualism with the fig wasp. Figs can only be pollinated by fig wasps and fig wasps can only reproduce in fig flowers. Each species of fig has its own individual fig wasp which pollinates it. For Ficus aurea, the symbiont is Pegoscapus mexicanus (Ashmead). Female wasps make there way through the ostiole into the syconium, where Ficus aurea produces both female and male flowers (monoecious). The syconia or the figs are paired and mostly sessile and range from 6-11 mm in size at maturity. When the fig is in the female phase, it releases chemicals to attract female wasps. The wasps then enter the syconium and pollinate the flowers, lay their eggs, and then die. The eggs hatch with males emerging first followed by the females. At this time, the wasps mate and exit through the walls of the fig. After 3 weeks- 2 months, once the larvae have completed their development, the syconium enter the male phase and the pollen is ready to be distributed. Thus, before leaving, the female wasps pack their bodies with pollen from the newly matured male flowers within the syconium. These wasps then move on to find another syconium in which to lay their eggs, thus repeating the cycle. Other species of highly specialized wasps which interact with the fig include gallers, parasitoids, and inquilines. These wasps also live and feed within the figs syconia.



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References:
http://www.cnr.vt.edu/dendro/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=383

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_aurea

http://www.floridata.com/ref/F/ficu_aur.cfm

http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/FICAURA.pdf

http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/159

http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/strangler_fig/stranfig.htm

http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/reprint/88/4/685