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Facts about the Banyan Tree - Ficus benghalensis - Description and Uses
The Banyan tree is a fig tree native to Asia and grows in India, Burma, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Southern China and Malaysia.
The banyan tree is the national tree of India. It is considered to be sacred and worshiped as a holy tree in many parts of India, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The name Banyan was drawn from the term banias meaning Indian traders. The banias used to rest in the shade of the banyan tree after a long day's work. The shade was also used by villagers to meet and discuss the affairs of their village.
Buddhists consider the banyan tree to be sacred because Buddha is supposed to have sat under the banyan tree for seven days after he was enlightened.
The genus Ficus has about 900 species of trees, shrubs, and vines commonly called figs. The Banyan tree grows well in regions that have a tropical climate.
This article is about the banyan tree belonging to the Ficus genus and the species benghalensis.
Scientific Classification of the Banyan Tree
Kingdom – Plantae
Division – Magnoliophyta
Class – Magnoliopsida
Order - Utricales
Family – Moraceae
Genus – Ficus
Species - benghalensis
Description of the Banyan Tree
The banyan tree starts its growth as a plant that grows on another plant (epiphyte). This tree is also known as the strangler fig because it is capable of completely blanketing the host tree with its growth and cuts off sunlight and nutrients from reaching the host plant. Eventually, the host tree dies.
The leaves of the banyan tree measure about 20 cm- 40 cm in length with reticulate venation. They are elliptical or ovate in shape and have a leathery texture. The leaf bud is enclosed in two large scales that fall off as the leaf grows.
Ficus genus is characterized by a type of involuted inflorescence called Syconium. The Syconium is a fleshy receptacle that has about 50 – 7000 florets on the inner side. The number of florets depends on the species to which the banyan tree belongs.
The Syconium seals off the florets from the outside leaving just a tiny opening at the base through which wasps can enter. The syconium can be monoecious or dioecious. The monoecious syconium has both male and female florets on the same tree.
A dioecious syconium has male florets and female florets on separate trees.
The female florets are pollinated by tiny wasps (Eupristina masoni) that enter through a small opening at the base of the fig. Once pollinated the female flowers form tiny fruits that contain seeds.
Pollination of this banyan tree is dependent solely on the wasp, Eupristina masoni. If the wasp becomes extinct, the banyan tree would also become extinct. This is an example of interdependence between species to flourish.
Roots of the Banyan Tree
The banyan tree begins its growth as an epiphyte. Seeds of the banyan tree are dispersed by birds. When a seed falls into a crack or a crevice on a tree, it germinates and starts growing on the tree.
As the banyan tree grows it develops aerial roots from the horizontal branches that grow down towards the ground. When these roots reach the ground, they enter the ground and strike roots that penetrate deep into the soil. These roots support the massive horizontal trunks of the banyan tree and are called prop roots.
The growth of the banyan tree can be extensive and cover large areas. Due to its growth, the tree provides a vast expanse of shaded area.
If the seeds of the banyan tree fall inside cracks and crevices of a building they can cause extensive damage to the walls when they start growing.
The Great Banyan Tree in Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanical Garden of Howrah Kolkata is the largest Banyan tree in India and one of the biggest in the world. It is more than 250 years old and is spread over an area of 1.6 hectares with approximately 3618 prop roots.
Uses of the Banayan Tree
- The fibers from the barks and roots are woven into ropes.
- Aerial roots are used as tent poles because of their strength and flexibility.
- The milky sap from the tree is used for polishing metal wares, and the wood is used to make paper pulp.
- The milky sap is also used to treat bruises and inflammations on skin.
- Leaves of the Banyan tree are crushed to a paste and applied onto the skin to treat burns on the skin, itching, and inflammation of the skin.
- Twigs of aerial roots are used to brush the teeth as it keeps bad breath at bay and helps to treat gum inflammations.
The extensive network of the root system has made the Banyan tree ideal for creating bonsai.