5 Unique Facts About the Banyan Tree

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Banyan tree, Bermuda

5 Unique Facts About the Banyan Tree

By Brenna Ellis

You may not know their name, but you’ve surely seen photos of them. The Banyan Tree (Ficus benghalensis) is a majestic tree. With thick woody trunks, vast canopies, and their signature root system they’re hard to miss.

Though common in Hawaii the Banyan tree is native to India. It was first brought to the Hawaiian islands in 1873  by missionaries from India. The trees have become commonplace in Hawaii and they are viewed as a prominent feature on the islands.

The Banyan tree has a long history in religion, medicine, and pop culture. 

Let’s Look at 5 Interesting Facts About This Amazing Tree.

     1.The Banyan Tree is the Hawaiian Version of a Hollywood Star

The Banyan got a big boost in popularity when one was planted in 1933 by a Hollywood producer filming on the islands. This single tree led to the creation of Banyan Tree Drive. For years after this first tree was planted many prominent guests and Hawaiian royalty have planted trees lining this street.

Nowadays the drive leads to a fancy hotel and golf course and visitors love to stop along the way to see who planted which tree. Tidal waves have uprooted some of the trees over the years but there are still 50 standing today.

From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Amelia Earhart and “Babe” Ruth the drive is lined with trees planted by greats like these. If you were important on the islands or the US in the 1930s-1950s you likely have a tree and plaque along this road. 

If you are in Hilo don’t miss this epic Hawaiian version of the Hollywood stars.

     2.The Strangler Fig, the Broadest Tree in the World

In a garden outside of Kolkata India is the broadest tree in the world, known as The Great Banyan. This tree is about 250 years old and it covers almost 5 acres—that’s 4.5 football fields. The garden consists of this one tree and it provides an entire ecosystem on its own.

The Banyan tree can grow so broad because of its root system. Rather than growing underground, its roots grow from its branches, so it’s always growing outward.

Banyans, like other Ficus trees, have a unique form of pollination. These trees provide shelter and fruit for a specific kind of wasp that is their only pollinator. Without these specific wasps, the trees couldn’t produce fruit for birds.

Also known as the strangler fig, its seed sprouts and grows on other trees.

As the seeds of a Banyan grow on its host, it drops its roots to the ground and they slowly grow around the other tree. After years of growth, the host will be ‘strangled’ and die.

The host dying is not all bad news. Once it has decayed it leaves a hollowed-out place where it once stood. This area becomes a place for animals and birds to build their homes.

     3.Banyan Tree’s Incredible Medicinal Properties 

Almost every piece of the Banyan tree has its own medicinal properties. Pieces of the tree have been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine to treat illnesses and inflammation.

Name your ailment and a piece of the Banyan tree likely has a source of relief.

These are a few of its medicinal properties:

Leaves have many uses including relieving diarrhea and dysentery. They can be used topically on growths to break them down. The leaves can also be brewed into alcohol, and used for women during pregnancy to strengthen uterine muscles.

The bark can be used to control diabetes.

Paste from the roots to help tighten and firm up skin. The roots themselves can be used to clean teeth and fight gum disease.

The milky juice of the tree (the latex) can be used to kill warts and combat inflammation. 

     4.The Banayan Tree Has a Religious History

Banyan trees first appeared in Hindu texts 2500 years ago and hold huge significance in the religion. The tree has many ties to some of the most well-known of the Hindu gods including Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma, and Lord Shiva.

Each of these three Lords are thought to be represented in different parts of the tree. Lord Vishnu is in the bark. Lord Shiva in the branches and Lord Brahma is present in the roots.

In the Hindu religion, it represents longevity and immortality. The tree is thought to grant all wishes and provide material gains to its followers. It is often planted near temples and crematories because of its significance in the religion.

The Banyan also has roots in the Buddhist religion. It is said to be the tree that the Buddha sat under when he attained enlightenment, referred to as the Bodhi tree.

In European history, Alexander the Great and his army came across a Banyan tree in 326 BCE. This tree was so amazing to them that they returned home and described this amazing tree to a botanist so it could be chronicled.

It’s believed that this report of the Banyan by Alexander the Great and his army is “what led 17th-century English poet John Milton to write that Adam and Eve made their first clothes out of banyan leaves in the book “Paradise Lost.” -Konstantinovsky, Michelle “The Mighty Banyan Tree Can ‘Walk’ and Live for Centuries”

     5.The Modern Banyan

In the modern world, besides Banyan Drive in Hawaii, it shows up in a variety of places. From brand names to a giant resort chain, the name Banyan is used to hint at its historical importance.

Though ficus trees have become popular house plants, the Banyan is best left out of the home. Indian architecture practices consider them bad luck to have near or in your home. Beyond that, the very nature of the Banyan tree makes it a difficult house plant.

Preserving the Banyan 

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The Banyan tree is important for so many reasons. It’s a sustaining life force within its habitat and for the entire globe. Because of the large number of fruit it produces, it sustains many birds, bats, and other critters. 

It’s also essential to preserve the Banayan Tree because of its big leaves and fast canopy.  It’s one of the top oxygen suppliers among trees—giving life to our planet. We must protect the trees we have while planting more.

What You Can Do to Help

At Ocean Blue Project we’re working to clean up the beaches and ocean from plastic pollution. We host a variety of cleanups along coastlines to get communities engaged with their local beaches.

By cleaning up the plastic waste we’re helping protect our waterways and ocean for the sake of all living beings. But our impact wouldn’t be possible without volunteers—and we would love for you to get involved! You can find out about scheduled cleanups here

If you don’t see one organized in your community we would love to help you get one started. To learn more about how you can lead your community in a clean up visit our site and let’s make a difference together. 

Author Bio:  Brenna Ellis is a writer based in Missoula Montana. Receiving a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies she is always looking for ways to educate others in order to protect the planet. When not writing about environmental education she loves writing for brands that promote inclusion in the outdoors. 

The religious significance, medicinal properties, and Hawaiian popularity of the amazing Banyan tree.