Ficus benghalensis: Banyan tree

Family: Moraceae
Common name: Banyan tree, Banyan, Indian banyan, Banyan fig, Bengal fig, Bengal bodhi tree, Barh, East Indian fig tree, Horn fig

Banyan tree is a majestic and iconic tree that can grow to a height of up to 30 meters. Belonging to the fig family of Moraceae, they have large crowns that spread horizontally over large areas. They also have a large network of branches spreading in every direction, covered with dark green, glossy leaves.

The most striking feature of this tree is their aerial roots, which emerge from the branches and eventually reach the ground, forming secondary trunks that contribute to the tree’s stability and distinct appearance.

One of the oldest banyan trees in Andhra Pradesh, India, spreads over 4.7 acres with its secondary trunks. Sometimes, the secondary branches become independent trees without any connection the parent tree. Sometimes, the parent tree trunk is destroyed, but the secondary trunks keep them alive and thriving.

The tree is noted for their unique flowers that look like small fruits. The small rounded structure called cyconia contains both male and female flowers. Once pollinated, the flowers become small red fruits containing seeds.

Banyan trees are native to the Indian subcontinent but are now found in various tropical and subtropical regions around the world. These trees thrive in tropical and subtropical climates with temperatures ranging from 10 to 38°C.

They prefer well-drained soil with moderate moisture levels. Adequate sunlight is crucial for the growth of the Banyan tree, although they can tolerate partial shade. They are resistant to drought and mild fluctuations in temperature, surviving for many years once they are established in the soil.

In many tropical regions, Banyan trees are planted for their aesthetic appeal and shade-providing capabilities. The broad, dense canopy of the tree makes them ideal for creating natural cooling in gardens, parks, and along streets. The aerial roots and secondary trunks give them a unique, picturesque appearance that adds a touch of grandeur to any landscape.

Apart from their ornamental value, Banyan trees have many cultural and religious significance in several communities. It’s the national tree of India, revered as a sacred tree and often found near temples and other religious sites. Banyan is said to be the sacred tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment.

The extensive roots and branching structure of the Banyan tree symbolize fertility, stability, and longevity in Indian mythology and folklore.

The leaves of the Banyan tree are an important food source for various herbivorous animals. The figs produced by the tree are consumed by birds and mammals, contributing to biodiversity and ecological balance. Seeds that pass through the digestive system of these birds and small animals germinate and sprout sooner.

In traditional medicine, different parts of the tree, including the bark and roots, are used for their medicinal properties to treat various ailments like dysentery, toothache, bruises, vomiting and so on. Wood of the tree is light and is hence used for small cabinets, poles, drawers and so on.

Propagation is through seeds, stem cuttings, air layering, or grafting.