Often starting out as an epiphyte nestled in the limbs of another tree, the native strangler fig is vine-like while young, later strangling its host with heavy aerial roots and eventually becoming a self-supporting, independent tree. Not recommended for small landscapes, strangler fig grows quickly and can reach 60 feet in height with an almost equal spread. The broad, spreading, lower limbs are festooned with secondary roots which create many slim but rigid trunks once they reach the ground and take hold. They become a maintenance headache as these roots need to be removed to keep a neat-looking landscape. The shiny, thick, dark green leaves create dense shade and the surface roots add to the problem of maintaining a lawn beneath this massive tree. The fruit drops and makes a mess beneath the tree.
Scientific name: Ficus aurea
Pronunciation: FYE-kuss AR-ee-uh
Common name(s): strangler fig, golden fig
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 1)
Origin: native to Florida, southern Mexico to Panama, and western Caribbean Islands
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native
Uses: indoors; reclamation; Bonsai
Height: 50 to 60 feet
Spread: 50 to 70 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular
Crown shape: spreading, round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: fast
Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: undulate, entire
Leaf shape: ovate, elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, broadleaf evergreen
Leaf blade length: 2 to 5 inches
Leaf color: dark green on top, paler green underneath
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: unknown
Flower characteristics: not showy; emerges inside the fleshy fruit produced by this tree
Fruit shape: oval, round
Fruit length: ½ to ¾ inch
Fruit covering: fleshy fig
Fruit color: green to red, burgundy, or purple when ripe
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem
Fruiting: spring and summer
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches droop; showy; typically one trunk; no thorns
Bark: tan, smooth, and broken twigs excrete a milky sap
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: medium
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun, to partial shade; shade tolerant
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate
Roots: can form large surface roots
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases
Use and Management
Easily grown in full sun or partial shade, strangler fig can literally be planted, watered a few times, and forgotten. A variety of soils, including wet, will do, and strangler fig is moderately salt-tolerant. More often than not, large strangler figs were existing trees, not planted. Seeds germinate easily in the landscape allowing the tree to invade nearby land.
Propagation is by seed or cuttings.
Primary pests are aphids and scales followed by sooty mold.
No diseases are of major concern.
Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.