For those fortunate enough to visit the endangered mountain gorilla in its afromontane stronghold in Central Africa, one of the most memorable experiences is to witness these gargantuan great apes munching their way thoughtfully through a leisurely lunch of bamboo shoots. Though by no means their only foodplant, bamboo is a firm favourite with mountain gorillas. With this in mind, bamboo will feature prominently in our ‘gorilla garden’ when Fauna & Flora makes its Chelsea Flower Show debut next year.
Strangler figs: A banquet for gibbons
The evocatively named strangler fig starts life high in the treetops, when a bird that has fed on fig fruit elsewhere in the forest lands on the branch of a host tree and deposits poo containing undigested seeds. One of the seeds germinates in a bark crevice and sprouts an aerial root system that heads for the forest floor. As they descend, these slender roots crisscross the supporting trunk of the hapless host, forming a living latticework that clings to the tree like a giant fishnet stocking.
Once they have reached the ground and embedded themselves in the soil, the roots slowly thicken and gradually envelop the trunk of the host tree in a cellulose straitjacket. Meanwhile, the strangler fig soaks up the sun on its ready-made roof terrace. Its crown of leaves spreads through the canopy and eventually overshadows the host tree, blocking out its light.