Amazing Facts About Wildlife

Banyan: a strangler tree

Prashant Mahajan, senior Education Officer, BNHS, Mumbai

Scientific name: Ficus benghalensis

Banyan is one of the common trees planted as a shade tree along the city roads and highways. However, a palm tree growing out of Banyan tree makes an interesting observation. As a matter of fact the palm does not grow from the Banyan but it is Banyan which grows around the palm tree.

Roots of the giant banyan tree at Adyar,
Madras which overs 59,000 sq ft.
(Photographed by Susan Sharma)

This is a fascinating creation of birds. Many birds cherish the globular, stalk less figs of Banyan. One of such birds defecates on the palm tree. During rainy season, the undigested seeds germinate and send thread-like small roots to the ground. These roots then surround the palm tree with a delicate network. These roots further thicken and become like mighty ropes. The powerful roots then start pressing and squeezing the stem of the palm so strongly that all the capillaries that carry water from ground to the top of the palm get crushed and blocked. Eventually the palm dies off and its trunk decomposes and disappears leaving behind a strange, hollow, cage-like structure, formed by the strangler roots of the Banyan tree hence called Strangler fig. However the two can co-exist for along time.

Banyan is found in the sub-Himalayan forests and peninsular India. It has a smooth bark and large leathery leaves. The leaves are used as fodder for captive elephants and camels. The leaves are also made into plates. The fruits are fig like which appear between April and June and October and November as well.

The Banyan is sacred to the Hindus and Buddhists. The great Banyan of Calcutta has around 1000 trunks. The canopy covers 4 acres and a walk around the tree is about 400 meters. One can see huge Banyan tree under total control of a palm tree in gardens, roadside, forest area or agricultural land.


Close-up of Strangler Fig. Showing the banyan growing out of the palm tree.

(Photographed by the author in Film City Mumbai)

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