Strangler Fig

Before the European explorers set their feet on Africa, this giant landmass was known as the Dark Continent by the  people of Europe. Actually, Africa wasn’t a dark continent at all. Instead, the Europeans were in the dark since  they had no knowledge about Africa. In the 15th for century, some Portuguese explorers reached the shores of Africa for the first time. During their exploration, they came across a variety of birds, animals, insects and plants species which they had never seen before. They jotted down about strange creatures in their diary, and shared their experiences when they came back to their respective homelands. The narration, of course, was spiced up with a bit of exaggeration in order to make it sensational. Among many fairy tale-like stories they narrated, one was that of a tree which devours humans!

Today, we know that no such trees exist in Africa or any part of the world. What the 15th and 16th century explorers said about the so-called man-eating trees was more of a fiction than a fact! Nevertheless, their narration cannot be completely ignored. As a matter of fact, certain species of plants and trees do exist in the world which though do not devour human beings, yet feast on other species of plants and trees. These trees creep around the trunk of other trees and after reaching a particular height. they actually strangulate them. Once the tree is ‘victimised’ it is reduced to nothing.

strangler tree
A strangler tree wrapped around a host tree

It is hard to digest the fact that one tree actually kills another, but it is true. A species of tree, aptly called strangler fig, exists in Africa and all tropical rainforest of the world. It belongs to the category of Ficus and is similar to the banyan  trees. The only difference is that the strangler fig initially grows in the form of a creeper and grows into an actual tree with the help of another tree next to it. Once the strangler fig grows in full, it destroys the very tree around which it had crept and grown. (What a betrayal!) After the strangler fig ‘strangulates’ its victim, it blooms to its fullest and bears fruits.The fruits are consumed by  birds, squirrels, monkeys and other creatures along with the seeds. They cannot digest the hard seeds, but the outer shell of the seed is dissolved in their stomach during digestion. The ‘uncovered’ seeds are then excreted by them.

The seeds germinate in new grounds in a few days. A shoot erupts from the seed and it starts growing by climbing around the nearest tree. Gradually it starts sucking the sap from the victim and gains extra strength along with the nourishment it receives from the ground through the roots. This double whammy situation of the strangler fig tree creates double trouble for the victim and leads to its faster death. Firstly, due to the presence of the strangler fig, it is deprived of proper nutrition from the soil. Secondly, whatever food it photosynthesises  for itself is also sucked away by the strangler fig. To further add to its crisis, the strangler fig tightly strangulates the tree which further prevents the water and other important minerals from reaching every part of the tree. Resultantly, the leaves dry and wither away and finally the entire tree dries up. The place where it once grew in full bloom reduces to nothing but a hollow space.

strangler tree hollow
A hollow created when the host  tree died.

The strangler fig grows in this place and bears fruits which are then eaten by birds, squirrels and monkeys. They spread the seeds in another area, and so, more trees fall victim to strangler fig. There is little sunlight and water on the tropical rain-forest ground, so the strangler fig has found a way to avoid being deprived of solar energy and water by growing on other trees—and then killing them too!



Digital genome

About 5000 years ago, Egyptians expressed their ideas, thoughts, lifestyle and culture in hieroglyphic on stones and rocks. Today we can have access to that information and look long back in time. This became possible for the sole reason that the Egyptians carved the vital information on stones which obviously has more life than that of paper.

The medium of storing information changed with the invention of printing technology. Paper became the sole medium of holding various kind of information. The paper form too is now rapidly being replaced by the digital media such as compact disc and hard disc. This latest version of storage information is even more perishable and has a shorter life span compared to paper and stone for two reasons. First, the storage device such as the compact discs, pen drives and hard discs are sensitive to the ultra-violet rays of the sun, electricity and magnetic field. So much so, that bringing such media in contact with these will corrupt the data stored within.

Secondly, with the fast development of digital technology the software used for creating a data file today might became outdated tomorrow. Without the proper software, one cannot access the file.

Anticipating these prospective problems, the Government of Switzerland has come up a wonderful solution. It has undertaken the project of storing valuable information for the future generation since last six years. The human genome holds the key to the minutest detail about our body; similarly, the European researchers have created a digital genome that holds information about our planet, various countries and their people, animals, birds and almost everything that the future generation should know about. All such data has been stored in a device called time capsule, which has a storage capacity of 100 gigabytes of data.

time capsule

The time capsule also carries in-depth information about computer programming language such as FORTRAN, COBOL, C++ etc, to enable the future generation build the computer system based on such programmes and access all the information when FORTRAN, COBOL, C++ would have became long forgotten.

The time capsule (digital genome) is kept in a secret bunker nea the slopes of Chic ski resort Gstaad, in the Swiss Alps. It is safe behind the 3.5 metric tonne iron door inside Swiss ‘Fort Knox’, which is strong enough to sustain nuclear attacks, electromagnetic waves or any natural calamity. In short, under absolute care and precision, it is made sure that every bit of information passes to the next generation without  creating any void of information between the generation.