In case you haven't heard: there are places in the Amazonian Jungle called Devil's Gardens. The gardens are large swaths of land composed of almost entirely one single tree the Duroia hirsuta. This tree's roots have the ability to secrete growth inhibitors along side it's symbiotic relationship between this tree and the lemon ant, this tree is able to negate competition by killing them. There are other trees that create clonal colonies in which the colony grows new trunks from a root system underground.


So I am wondering: is it feasible that a tree could evolve to use its roots to search our other trees and grow a new clone through the trunk of its competitor? Which should split the competing tree in half and kill it all at the same time reproducing.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ one tree growing through the other will not kill it, the growth will be slow enough to let the victim tree grow around the invader. You can find pictures of trees growing swallowing fence bars as they grow. If attacker grows fast enough to harm other tree, the growth area will be too soft to do damage. Finally, killing others is costly, the tree will only do it if other trees actively inhibit its expansion. $\endgroup$
    – Bald Bear
    Aug 22, 2018 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @BaldBear but would the tree just need to grow faster than the one it was killing? Or I guess at that point would splitting in general even be enough to kill another tree? I believe the only part a tree NEEDS (I assume that the center is more for support than life) to live is the part right under the bark. So if it splits then could the attacker actually kill the competing tree? $\endgroup$
    – Gray9
    Aug 22, 2018 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like a combo of Duroia hirsuta and strawberries. Strawberries can "clone" themselves using roots and shoots. And if you get a shoot into the "enemy" tree and maybe team up with some fungi, you might be able to pull it off. $\endgroup$
    – Joe P
    Aug 23, 2018 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ A problem with evolving something like this is that it produces a monoculture, which provides an opportunity for parasites & diseases, so an organism that does this is likely to be self-limiting. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jul 28, 2019 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


In regards to the splitting aspect of your question, I believe that a mistletoe hybrid would be best.

Mistletoe seeds, deposited by birds and other animals, burrow into the trunks of nearby trees, and split the bark as they grow, sapping nutrients from the original tree as they go.

mistletoe growth cycle

As it stands, even naturally occurring mistletoe has the potential to kill many native trees, though generally it is not in the mistletoe's best interest, as it gets a majority of its nutrients from its living host tree. If the hybrid were to be able to establish a more effective root system that spread down to the ground or perhaps take over the host's own root system, then it could completely displace any plant that it takes over.

With birds being the main way in which it spreads, the mistletoe hybrid could spread very quickly through an area, since most mistletoe-eating birds nest in non-mistletoe plants, effectively planting the seeds in exactly the places where they are needed the most.


Something similar to what you depict is done by the Ficus watkinsiana, better know as strangler fig.

Its well deserved name comes from its growth cycle: when a bird eats one of its figs, it can drop one of the seeds, through its excrement, on a tree. When this happen the seed grows around the tree trunk, reaching the ground and enveloping the host tree until it dies for lack of light and air.

The fig strategy allows for a better position of the young plant with respect to light gathering (sprouting higher than the ground) and also ensure a suitable support while the plant grows.

In your case the young plants should start from the ground level (thus with less light), and should compete with an adult plant. Moreover, being a clone, could not randomly pick advantageous genetic traits.

I am not saying it is impossible, there are trees propagating via roots, I just think this might be possible but less effective.

strangler fig growth

Of course, using the strangler fig mechanism, preventing other trees from growing is a bad idea, as then one will lack growth substrates.

  • $\begingroup$ Of course the Straggling Fig is Australian $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2018 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ The attacking tree could detect presence of a rival tree, and sprout a vine from its roots that will go on to choke the rival. $\endgroup$
    – Bald Bear
    Aug 22, 2018 at 19:16

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