Monday, January 02, 2012

Puerto Rico: Skinless Trees and People

On the way to the historic fort El Morro, in Old San Juan, we encountered something that looked less like a tree than a sculpture built of rebar.
This branch is reminiscent of a man's arm without the skin, or an exagerated version of one of Princeton's musclewood trees (Carpinus caroliniana).
This sort of growth is common in more tropical climes, particularly among species of fig (Ficus). If you google images for strangler fig, you'll see all sorts of extravagant examples.
As explained in a Wikipedia entry, a strangler fig can actually begin its life above ground, sprouting on the limb of another tree, then extend its roots down towards the ground while also sending branches and trunk upward. Over time, the original tree dies off and the strangler fig completely usurps the space.


Some of our invasive vine species in New Jersey, such as English ivy, can weaken their host tree, but they don't develop the sturdy infrastructure to continue to stand if the original tree dies.

By chance, there was an exhibition called Body Worlds just down the street in San Juan,
featuring skinless renderings of people. As a friend once said after seeing pictures of her vocal cords, there's a good reason why people have skin.

And at a local museum, a similarly fibrous merging of tree and human. It's tempting to think the painting was inspired by the local strangler figs.

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