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The battle of the Fig tree

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

"If I is chopping an axe into the trunk of a big tree, I is hearing a terrible sound coming from inside the heart of the tree" - The BFG. Roald Dahl.


Fig tree, Fig tree,

what would you tell me,

if you could speak to me?

Little child, little child,

I am an ancient tree

in the forest I have lived

for more than a thousand years.


Fig trees are unique in many ways. There is something about their size, their root system and their leaves, which make them fascinating. When I look up to the canopy and to the wired root system of a fig tree, I always wonder, how old is this tree? Or what could this tree tell me of an ancient time? What can it see from up there? Who have been its temporary residents?




Fig trees belong to the Ficus genus of trees, with the most notable species in Australia being the Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). They are distributed across the rainforest and subtropical regions of Australia. On the trip to the Tablelands we met two very special Fig trees, and we decided to make a special post honouring these magnificent trees. These famous White Fig trees (Ficus virens) are called the Cathedral and Curtain Fig tree. They both have unique and very interesting natural histories. Both their histories involve what I would like to call "the battle of the fig tree".





One morning, in a rainforest of the Tablelands, a fig tree seed, smaller than a sesame seed, landed in the branch of another tree, probably using bird's poop as sticky glue. This seed germinated and grew on top of the branch. The branch became its new home. But because the newly germinated tree needed soil, it extended its roots all the way down to the ground. In time, the fig tree needed more space, it was its

nature. It was meant to become a big fig tree like its parents. So the young fig tree grew and grew and grew. It grew so much that it eventually covered its host tree completely. The host tree couldn't withstand the super sized cuddle from the fig tree, so it eventually died from hugging (some may call this strangulation). Whether the host tree found it hard to deliver water and nutrients up from the soil, or got shaded out, we do not know. However, life continued, and the fig tree grew and grew, and spread and spread.




The fig tree is still alive and lives in the forest in a protected area of the Tableland, and while their age is unknown, it is estimated to be in the range of 500 years old.

These special fig trees are heritage-listed tree, and therefore are protected. The curtain fig is located near Yungaburra, and the cathedral in Danbulla National Park. They both have short walking trail of about 300 m. Basically, we only got out of the car and walk two minutes to meet the trees.


Next time you visit the Tablelands, stop by these tree, you will be amazed by their size

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