Across the parking lot from Camp Salmen’s office is an old brick well house, a relic of the park’s Boy Scout days. We affectionately call it The Brick House, after the 1970s pop song and use the building for storage. Awhile back, Boy Scout Garret West did the park a nice favor by replacing the building’s door and roof and installing new shelves inside to earn his Eagle Scout rank.
The structure is unique because it is almost completely covered in leafy Fig Vines (Ficus pumila). This makes it popular with professional photographers visiting the park and they often pose their clients in front of the picturesque greenery. This plant has grown so opulently it has cascaded from the walls of the house and has to be trimmed back now and again. The plant is yet another native of East Asia and has found the U.S. South to be a welcoming home. Landscapers love the stuff for it can grow abundantly on blank walls (and leave permanent scars from its rootlets). It also likes to grow onto neighboring vegetation and this trait has allowed it to obnoxiously heap itself onto two neighboring Live Oaks, cutting off their sunlight and adding bulk, weight and wind resistance to the tree’s limbs.
So, the diligent Park Ranger called out, “Mr. Fig Vine, unhand that tree!” and went after it with a pair of loppers. The vine apparently had a good head start for more than half of the tree’s lower trunk is wrapped in the vine’s woody embrace. Cutting into it was like trying to cut a ham hock. The ugly, fat, flat, grey vines are as hard as the tree and cling tightly, rooted to its bark with fine tendrils that look grotesquely like millipede legs. They hug the trunk so closely it‘s hard to get a good cut and it helped to use a crowbar to pry it up. Furthermore, the vine comes out of the ground in hidden locations, branches off, crosses one another and uses some sort of secret strategy to keep itself somehow alive in spite of the butchery handed to it by the Park Ranger, to whom it has effectively replied “Ha!” It still looks pretty healthy.
In the meantime, these vines are busily trying to propagate themselves by sprouting out hundreds of plump, bell-shaped, purple figs that fall and lay scattered under the trees, just waiting for someone to dare to take them home. Web sites that tout the plant’s usefulness in landscaping warn gardeners to keep an eye on it, lest it make a greedy grab for the neighboring plants or otherwise grow where it is not welcome. A web site with a more gastronomic theme says that while the “figs” are not harmful to eat, there is nothing at all to recommend them to your diet. A good house salad at a local restaurant or, better yet, actual figs from a fig tree (Ficus carica) would be surely be much more enjoyable.