This article is about the tree. For other uses, see Banyan (disambiguation).
Banyan (also banian)
Banyan with characteristic adventitious prop roots
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Moraceae
Genus: Ficus
Subgenus: Urostigma

Many species, including:

A banyan (also banian[1]) is a fig that starts its life as an epiphyte (a plant growing on another plant) when its seeds germinate in the cracks and crevices on a host tree or on buildings and bridges. Banyan often refers specifically to the Indian banyan (Ficus benghalensis), which is the national tree of the Republic of India,[2] though the term has been generalized to include all figs that share a characteristic life cycle, and systematically to refer to the subgenus Urostigma.[3]

Like other fig species (including the common edible fig Ficus carica), banyans bear multiple fruit in structures called syncarps. The Ficus syncarp supplies shelter and food for fig wasps and in turn, the trees are totally dependent on the fig wasps for pollination.

The seeds of banyans are dispersed by fruit-eating birds. The seeds are small, and most banyans grow in forests, so a plant germinating from a seed that lands on the ground is unlikely to survive. However, many seeds land on branches and stems of trees or on buildings. When those seeds germinate, they send roots down towards the ground, and may envelop part of the host tree or building structure, giving banyans the casual name of "strangler fig". The "strangling" growth habit is found in a number of tropical forest species, particularly of the genus Ficus, that compete for light.[4][5][6] Any Ficus species showing this habit may be termed a strangler fig.

The leaves of the banyan tree are large, leathery, glossy green, and elliptical in shape. Like most fig trees, the leaf bud is covered by two large scales. As the leaf develops, the scales fall. Young leaves have an attractive reddish tinge.[7]

Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks, which can become indistinguishable from the main trunk with age. Old trees can spread out laterally, using these prop roots to cover a wide area. In some species, the effect is for the props to develop into a sort of forest covering a considerable area, every trunk connected directly or indirectly to the central trunk. The topology of this structure of interconnection inspired the name of the hierarchical computer network operating system Banyan VINES.

In a banyan that envelops a support tree, the mesh of roots growing around the support tree eventually applies very considerable pressure and commonly kills the tree. Such an enveloped, dead tree eventually rots away, so the banyan becomes a "columnar tree" with a hollow central core. In jungles, such hollows are particularly desirable shelters to many animals.


The name was originally given to F. benghalensis and comes from India, where early travellers observed that the shade of the tree was frequented by banias or Indian traders.[8]

In the Gujarati language, banya means "grocer or merchant", not "tree". The Portuguese picked up the word to refer specifically to Hindu merchants, and passed it along to the English as early as 1599 with the same meaning. By 1634, English writers began to tell of the banyan tree, a tree under which Hindu merchants conducted their business. The tree provided a shaded place for a village meeting or for merchants to sell their goods. Eventually, "banyan" became the name of the tree itself.


The original banyan, F. benghalensis, can grow into a giant tree covering several hectares. Over time, the name became generalized to all strangler figs of the Urostigma subgenus. The many banyan species include:

Ornamental value

Early stages of a strangler fig on a host tree in the Western Ghats, India
Looking upward inside a strangler fig where the host tree has rotted away, leaving a hollow, columnar tree

Due to the complex structure of the roots and extensive branching, the banyan is extensively used for creating bonsai. Taiwan's oldest living bonsai is a 240-year-old banyan housed in Tainan.[9]

In culture

Religion and mythology

Banyan trees figure prominently in several Asian and Pacific religions and myths, including:

In the Bhagavat Gita, Krishna said, "There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas." (Bg 15.1) Here the material world is described as a tree whose roots are upwards and branches are below. We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: if one stands on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water, he can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward and the roots upward. Similarly, this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The material world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow we can understand that there is substance and reality.
The banyan tree is also considered sacred and is called vat vriksha (IAST vaṭa vṛkṣa, वट वृक्ष) in Sanskrit, in Telugu known as: మర్రి చెట్టు; marri chettu, and in Tamil known as: 'ஆல மரம்' ; ala maram. The god Shiva as Dakshinamurthy is nearly always depicted sitting in silence under the banyan with rishis at his feet. It is thought of as perfectly symbolizing eternal life due to its seemingly unending expansion.


Thimmamma Marrimanu
Large banyan tree in Punjab, Pakistan


See also


  1. banian. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: March 15, 2016).
  2. "National Tree". Government of India Official website. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  3. Note usage of "Banyan" versus "banyan" in ""Trees with a Difference: The Strangler Figs"" (PDF). (61.0 KB) by Vidya R. Athreya, Nature Watch, July 1997; also "Aerial-rooting banyan trees", Archived September 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. Zhekun, Zhou & Michael G. Gilbert (2003) Flora of China (Moraceae) 5: 21-73.
  5. Serventy, V. 1984. Australian Native Plants. Victoria: Reed Books.
  6. Light in the rainforest 1992 Tropical topics. Vol 1 No. 5
  7. The Lovely Plants
  8. Yule, Henry, Sir. Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. New ed. edited by William Crooke, B.A. London: J. Murray, 1903.
  9. Taipei Times, "Small is the old big", September 22, 2005
  11. T.W. Rhys Davids & William Stede (1921-25), Pali-English Dictionary (Chipstead: Pali Text Society), p. 355, entry "Nigrodha," retrieved 22 November 2008 from University of Chicago.
  12. See, for instance, the automated search of the SLTP ed. of the Pali Canon for the root "nigrodh" which results in 243 matches "Search term 'Nigrodh' found in 243 pages in all documents". Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  13. See, e.g., SN 46.39, "Trees [Discourse]," trans. by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000), Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya (Boston: Wisdom Publications), pp. 1593, 1906 n. 81; and, Sn 2.5 v. 271 or 272 (Fausböll, 1881, p. 46).
  14. Balete Tree
  15., Ghost stories: Taotaomona, duendes and other spirits inhabit Guam
  16. 1 2 John R. K. Clark (2001). Hawai'i place names: shores, beaches, and surf sites. University of Hawaii Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8248-2451-8.
  17. LEGOLAND Florida The Belle of Theme Parks
  18. "In the shade of the banyan tree". The Economist. 8 April 2009.
  19. Home Page
  20. CRASH 4 - Jet Set Willy

External links

Look up banyan in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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