What Is A Banyan Tree?
A banyan tree is a fig that starts as its seed will usually sprout in a crevice of a host plant. As part of the Ficus subgenus Urostigma, Ficus benghalensis is referred to as the banyan tree or the Indian banyan. However, the term banyan has become common enough that the name is used to denominate the other nine species in the Urostigma subgenus in taxonomy.
The banyan is native to the Indian Subcontinent. It is India's national tree and is considered to be sacred by many in the country. These trees are best known for having some of the widest canopy coverage on Earth and for there aerial roots which grow downwards. The figs that the tree produces are eaten by a number of different animals, especially birds, which help the figs seeds to germinate faster once they are digested.
The Largest Banyan Tree On Earth
The largest Banyan tree in the world is found in India, located inside the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden. This garden is found in the state of West Bengal and located near the city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). Known simply as the Great Banyan Tree, this massive life-form is estimated to be at least 250 years old. Its exact age is unknown but it is known to be around this age since it is referenced in certain 19th century travel books.
As one of the widest trees on Earth in terms of the area its canopy covers, the Great Banyan takes up around 4 acres (16,187 square meters) of land and continues to grow every year. If one were to see the tree from a distance, they would assume that it is a small forest. However, what looks like individual trees are really the Great Banyan Tree's aerial roots, which are estimated to number around 3,000.
Unfortunately, the tree's main trunk had to be amputated 1925 after suffering from a prolonged fungal attack which stemmed from two cyclones that hit India in the late 19th century. Despite the 51-foot (15.7 meters) wide trunk's removal, the leftover clonal colony of the tree has stayed relatively healthy.
A 330 meter (0.2 miles) long road was built around the tree so that tourists could drive around it and take in the entire site. As evidence of the Great Banyan's continual growth, the tree has expanded beyond the road, creating a kind of shaded tunnel for drivers. The tree is popular enough in India that it has been featured on stamps and attracts more visitors than the actual botanic garden, which harbors exotic plants from around the world.