The stately banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) comes to us by way of India, where its uses are both decorative and medicinal. Each banyan can grow to cover an expansive tract of land, thanks to its broad-reaching branches that sprout prop roots, which grow down into the ground and become accessory trunks. With their twisting roots and spreading branches, the majestic trees invite smaller creatures to bask in their ample shade.
Mind the Pipes
As they spread, banyan roots can crack concrete slabs and even damage plumbing, crushing pipes in their search for water.
In some cultures, including the Vedic region in India, the banyan’s milky, sticky sap is used to treat a variety of ailments, from diabetes to premature ejaculation.
Banyan fruit are part of the fig family, though they’re inedible and can be a nuisance to clean up.
In Sarasota, The Ringling grounds feature 14 soaring banyans, some of which are more than 100 years old. Look closely: In some places, the trees contain semi-hidden statues that have been overtaken by the aggressive aerial roots.
“Banyan” is also the name of a merchant caste in India, perhaps referring to an ancient trading post that had been built under one of the expansive trees.
To distinguish a banyan from a Cuban laurel (Ficus microcarpa), which also grows locally, look for smooth gray bark, large waxy leaves and red, golfball-size fruit.
The trees can grow to occupy up to an acre of land. A 250-year-old specimen near Kolkata, India, has grown beyond 4.5 acres.
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