xaymaca — yameco

Jamaica is an Island full of Bays

Like jewelled tourmaline set in the sea.

The Caribbean coasts are washed with dazzling sand

So blinding white the sunlight flashes fire,

And trade winds lash against the palm-strewn shore. 

–Margaret Walker, “Epitaph For My Father”

A strangler fig is a common name given to a number of tropical and subtropical plant species, some banyans and unrelated vines, including, among many other species: Ficus altissima, Ficus aurea, Ficus benghalensis, Ficus burtt-davyi, Ficus citrifolia, Ficus craterostoma, Ficus tinctoria, Ficus macrophylla, Ficus obliqua, Ficus virens, Ficus watkinsiana, and Ficus henneana. 

Many tropical forest species, particularly of the ficus genus, share a common pattern of growth that involves “strangling” a host plant. This growth habit is an adaptation for growing in dark forests where there is intense competition for light. Strangler figs suck up the nutrients from its host tree, eventually killing them. 

Over time, pieces of systems may become overtaxed or otherwise obsolete. In computer systems, as the hosting technology ages, different tools and the architectures they are built upon become dysfunctional. And as we add new features and functionalities, these applications become more complex, harder to maintain and unable to grow.  

Completely replacing a complex system is a major undertaking. American software developer Martin Fowler is credited with using the growth pattern of the stranger fig tree as a metaphor for doing a rewrite of an important system. The result is a method of gradually creating a new system around the edges of the old, letting it grow slowly over several years until the old system is strangled. 

The strategy has proliferated and is being incorporated widely in the world of cloud computing. According to RoostersWorldja on Twitter: “According to Jamaican Folklore you always find a fig tree at the “source of water” or river head.” E. Richards adds, “It is said that anywhere you see a fig tree know there is water close by. Either there is an underground river or stream or cave with water but the fig tree knows where water is.”

Something in the crossing from yameco land to the land of xaymaca gave rise to new possibilities for language. something in the crossing from the hudson raritan estuary to  montego bay. a different kind of attention could give us something better more real raw to notice. something in the patterns of the delta and the archipelago. a river that flows both ways. something at once geographic and geologic, phrenic and at times frenetic. 

repetition. replication. rebirth. rush. rain. rear. reduce. repair. reassemble. to be light-starved and never quenched.

I wonder what else the strangler fig might teach us about change, growth, and transformation. About parasitism and mutality. I am interested in what trees know. what if we thought about our own evolution in such a way. a migration of systems. what structures do we inhabit through growth, ingratiating or integrating as a matter of expanding. what extinctions have been survived so that we could be here together. i am curious. what are we becoming.


1: Margaret Walker. “Epitaph For my Father,” p. 100 in This is My Century : New and Collected Poems. (The University of Georgia Press)

2: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/architecture/patterns/strangler-fig 

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangler_fig

5. Martin Fowler, StranglerFigApplication

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