Usually, a fig tree only requires a soil depth of 1-1.5 meters. The root network of a single tree can be several thousand meters long, in this respect, the root of a regular fig tree can hardly compete. Nevertheless, this very tree root tops another record list because no other plant has roots that penetrate deeper into the soil than the fig tree, which is native to South Africa.

Sometimes we wonder about plants and trees that grow and thrive in extremely unreal and dry areas. We are unable to comprehend the connection of the plant and the harsh climatic conditions above the surface of the earth, yet, the plant still grows. The scorching heat and long periods without clouds and rain supply do not automatically mean the absence of growing flora. We only recognize the tip of the iceberg, most of the flora remains hidden from us, since it penetrates deep into the earth.

The situation is similar to the fig tree species which is found in South Africa. It grows there on the rocks and can survive there very well. While some of the roots above the surface of the earth offer a firm hold on the hard rock, a single, about ten to twenty centimeters thick root strand penetrates deep into the earth through massive rocks. As it grows through partially thick layers of earth and obstacles, the root continuously searches for water, automatically making its way through gaps in the rock and porous rock. At the tip of the root, it secretes a slimy secretion, which loosens and decomposes the layers of the earth.

Water supply from a depth of 120 meters

Fig tree
Image Source – Wikimedia Commons

The root’s urge to water is unstoppable because only the water supply enables the fruit-bearing part of the tree on the earth’s surface to survive. There is a cave system in South Africa known as the Echo Caves and there, the path of the plants through the underground can be traced very well. The single root runs through the caves like a water pipe, then disappears back into the ground until the groundwater or another water source is finally reached. When the time comes and water is found, the long journey ends.

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This particular fig tree has a root with the deepest measurement of 120 meters which is massive for a tree root. It shows the trees’ fight for survival and success. Along with that, the time of this trip, which is the time it took to grow to a record-breaking length, is also extremely impressive. It took a full 70 years to grow 120 meters looking for a water source. The search for the source of the water ended, and from then on the root pumps about 25 liters of water a day all the way up to the fig tree, which defies the heat and drought in the dry environment of South Africa.

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