A Tree For All Seasons

Daktari Sue considered the Sycamore Fig tree to be very special: a Tree of Life and guardian of community that acts as a bountiful provider for all kinds of animals, especially our feathered friends. The list of birds is long and impressive and includes such favourites as tinker barbets, starlings, orioles, louries, sunbirds, mousebirds, bulbuls and green pigeons which live almost totally upon the fig fruit. Higher up the great birds take shelter and build nests: fish-eagles, vultures, barn owls and the hamerkop, just to name a few. At a lower level, smaller owls occupy hollows, and bush babies sleep through the day, none secure from the many snakes which frequent the tree for the variety of menu it offers.

Terrestrial creatures are also frequent visitors, depending on habitat and need. The elephant, nyala, bush pig and warthog eat fruit at any level they can reach. Black rhino browse on the leaves which most mammals ignore (though the jumping louse needs them for survival), leaving a pitted trail in its wake.

The white rhino chews the soft, cream-yellow bark, also stripped by some tribes of African people who believe that the fig tree contains properties which heal chest and throat ailments.

Numbers of insect species find the bark especially attractive. The scale-like outer layer, in a constant process of regeneration, provides excellent camouflage for such small predators as the spider, spinning his web-trap across the clefts and ridges. The crocodile, waiting for his prey, also makes us of the tree; within the thick tangle of roots it lies, immobile, at the river’s edge.

The main protagonist of “The Forever Tree” by Sue Hart is the ancient Sycamore Fig Tree that tells the tales of the animals who shelter beneath its spreading branches. It holds all the stories of the creatures of the bush and shares them whenever someone new comes to visit.

Long long ago,
Many many lifetimes before you were born,
I, the giant sycamore fig tree, was no more than a seed dropped by a passing pigeon.
Thunderdrum, the great great grandfather of Greatdrum,
One of my closest friends,
Knows the moment when I was born.
We live when we know that we are needed by others,
But do you think a tree cannot move?
Yes, I can stretch my long limbs
And turn my crown this way and that,
And when I sway in the wind
My leaves dance and whisper secrets among themselves.
My roots are knotted, thick as the trunk of an elephant,
Reaching deep in the earth in search of water.
I wait for the deepening shadows of the setting sun
And thank the sky for the mist-laden dampness
From the river below.