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cabuya strangler fig tree trunk view
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Cabuya Towering Strangler Fig Tree

Cabuya Towering Strangler Fig Tree

Quick Facts

  • Height : 131 feet (40 meters)
  • Diameter : 70 feet (21.5 meters)
  • Height to the top of the tree : 262 feet (80 meters)
  • Interesting fact : Can cover 40 people under its branches
  • Note : Trunk gives food and shelter to more than 10 species of animals
  • Location : Cabuya de Cobano, Puntarenas

Shunned by the loggers who once lived in the logging boom village of Montezuma due to its knotted and twisted wood, the towering 2009 award winning strangler fig tree of Cabuya is a landmark for tourist and a reminder for the logging companies to stay away.

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Locally referred as Matapalo or Higueron (giant banyan tree), it is usually the only tree species left after a logging company clears a forest. You know you have arrived to Cabuya when you spot this strangler fig tree on the right side of the road.

80 plus years ago, the tree started as a tiny seed in the canopy that somehow fell to the ground, rooted into the forest floor and took nutrients from the soil. Its roots and branches slowly started wrapping around a host tree, winding, and forming a latticework that surrounded the host tree trunk. Its crown also grew foliage, overshadowing the host tree and eventually killing it and leavening the fig tree with a hollow trunk.

The strangler fig tree's hollow trunk with nooks and crannies gives home to 10 howler monkeys, rodents, bats, reptiles, birds and amphibians. Its fruits are packed with seeds that are the food of the many monkeys and birds that also feed the many animals that are farther away from this mother tree.

The strangler fig tree is a keystone species because it bears fruits most of the year supplying food for the animals in the rainforest. It can withstand high, salty winds, saltwater flooding and low-nutrient soils.

How the strangler tree reproduces?

Strangler tree flowers, grow in clusters on short stems springing from the tree trunk, inside are hollow fruits, called cyconia, which are lined with hundreds of pollen-laden male flowers and seed-bearing female flowers. The female flowers have two types a short and a long style. The tree can reproduce thanks to the lifecycle of gall wasps that are specific to each strangler tree species. Gall wasps are born, reproduce and die inside the cyconia and do all the polinization of the tree in the process.

A female gall wasp will fly away full of eggs in search of another cyconia to lay its eggs. The female gall wasp finds a cyconia and squeezes through the cyconia's bottom two-millimeter hole losing its wings, locking herself inside. It deposits the pollen it carried from the strangler tree where she was born, lays its eggs in the neuter ovary of the strangler tree female flower, and dies - the hole in the fig wall it used to enter closes up.

After a few days the baby gall wasps hatch, the young male wasps chew an exit hole in the fruit and on the eggs of the females, start impregnating the young female wasps, and die. The baby female wasps crawl over the pollen of the male tree flowers to the exit holes and prepare for the only flight in their lifetime with their delicate wings – carrying the pollen - in search of the right fig tree species with flowers. And, the cycle repeats itself.

Cabuya Towering Strangler Fig Tree in Pictures