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Published on Friday, July 9, 2021

By Victoria Torley

Stuff happens.

We had some very high winds and torrential downpours. They were too much for one of our trees.

Not the tree’s fault, really. When José, our local arborist, came to take care of the problem, he found that the tree’s base had been infested by ants. Then there was the strangler fig. It had been impossible to remove – and we did try – but stranglers can both weaken a tree and add unbalanced weight to it leaving it vulnerable to wind and rain. So it was with this tree. Sadly, it was not a clean break and the tree had taken other things with it. Dangerous.

“Okay,” you’re thinking, “what’s the big deal?”

The ‘big deal’ is that the tree was only a few yards from my greenhouse.

The CRASH of the tree impacting said greenhouse scared us all and had my gardener/caretaker/everything else, Armando, running to the house to see if we were alright. We were fine. The greenhouse wasn’t.

We surveyed the area. Even Metric Man stirred himself to take a look and we decided that it was too dangerous for Armando to do the work himself. Recommendations were sought. José Viera is a licensed arborist but distance was an issue (if you are in the San José area and need an arborist, email me for his phone number).  Enter José, a local man who may not be licensed but who certainly knows his job.

So, the tree is down and clean-up has commenced. My doctor is sure to scold me, but I joined Armando in the clean-up. He did the heavy work, I looked for orchids. After all, we are going to burn the tree or pile it up and let it rot. Not a fate to wish on an orchid so they have been rescued and are being transferred to similar environments. I hope they will be happy and thrive (or ‘live long and prosper,’ something like that).

Plant for the Week

Let’s talk about that Ficus aurea, the species of strangler fig most common to Costa Rica. An interesting plant, although I wouldn’t call it a ‘real tree.’

The aurea begins life in the treetop when a seed is deposited by a bird or animal that has consumed the fruit. The new plant establishes a hold on the tree and then begins to send a root toward the ground. When the root is less than a meter from the soil, the single root splits into multiple smaller roots. These find the soil and dig in.

With time, the entire root will look for support. The wind may push it against the trunk and it will send out small roots to hold it there. I have tried cutting the roots before they reach the trunk and returned to find new roots headed for the ground. Tenacious little things. The tree will usually die as the fig blocks sunlight and denies food to the roots. It can then become hollow and the new tree will be called columnar.

The fig is considered a Keystone Species,  important as a secondary food source when other food is unavailable. The resplendent quetzal is a fig-loving bird. The vines on the trunk provide crevices, hiding spaces, pockets of water for any number of species. The fig is completely dependent on the fig wasp for pollination. No wasp, no figs. The fig is monoecious, producing male and female flowers at the same time. Male flowers are orange and about four times the size of the pink female flowers.

Editor's note: More information on this article or about gardening, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached at

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