A banyan (also banian) 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 structures like buildings and bridges). "Banyan" often refers specifically to the Indian banyan or Ficus benghalensis, the national tree of India, though the term has been generalized to include all figs that share a characteristic life cycle, and systematically to refer to the subgenus Urostigma.
Like other fig species (which includes the common edible fig Ficus carica), banyans have unique fruit structures and are dependent on fig wasps for reproduction. The seeds of banyans are dispersed by fruit-eating birds. The seeds germinate and send down roots towards the ground, which 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. 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.
Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. The original support tree can sometimes die, so that the banyan becomes a "columnar tree" with a hollow central core. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.
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.
In the Gujarati language, banya means "grocer/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 would conduct 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, the species 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. There are many banyan species, including:
Ornamental value 
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.
In culture 
Religion and mythology 
Banyan trees figure prominently in several Asian and Pacific religions and myths, including:
- In Hinduism, the leaf of the banyan tree is said to be the resting place for the god Krishna.
- 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.
- Elsewhere in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:
Of all trees I am the banyan tree, and of the sages among the demigods I am Narada. Of the Gandharvas I am Citraratha, and among perfected beings I am the sage Kapila.(10.26)
- The banyan tree is also considered sacred and is called "Vat Vriksha" in Sanskrit, in Telugu known as: 'మర్రి వృక్షము ' ; Marri Vrikshamu and in Tamil known as: 'ஆல மரம்' ; Ala Maram. 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.
- In modern parlance in the Hindi language, it is known as Bargad, Vatavriksh, and Barh.
- Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment in Bodhgaya in India while meditating under a banyan tree of the species Sacred Fig. The tree is known as Bodhi Tree
- In Buddhism's Pali canon, the banyan (Pali: nigrodha) is referenced numerous times. Typical metaphors allude to the banyan's epiphytic nature, likening the banyan's supplanting of a host tree as comparable to the way sensual desire (kāma) overcomes humans.
- The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees (林村許願樹) are banyan, and are a popular shrine in Hong Kong. They are located near the Tin Hau Temple in Lam Tsuen.
- In many stories of Philippine Mythology, the banyan, (locally known as balete or balite) is said to be home to a variety of spirits (diwata and engkanto) and demon-like creatures (among the Visayans, specifically, the dili ingon nato, meaning "those not like us"). Maligno (Evil spirits, from Spanish for 'malign') associated with it include the kapre (a giant), duwende (dwarves), and the tikbalang (a creature whose top half is a horse and whose bottom half is human). Children at a young age are taught never to point at a fully mature banyan tree for fear of offending the spirits that dwell within them, most especially when they are new to the place. Filipinos would always utter a respectful word or two to the spirits in the banyan tree when they are near one, walking near or around it to avoid any harm. Nearly every Filipino believes that provoking the spirits in a banyan tree can cause you great harm, illness, misfortune, untold suffering and death.
- In Guam, 'Chamorro people believe in tales of taotaomona, duendes and other spirits. Taotaomona are spirits of the ancient Chamorro that act as guardians to banyan trees.
- One of the largest trees, named the Great Banyan, is found in Kolkata in India. It is said to be more than 250 years old. Another such tree, named Doda Alada Mara, is found in the outskirts of Bangalore. Doda Alada Mara has a spread of around 3 acres.
- One of the most famous of banyan trees was planted on the island of Kabirvad in Gujarat. Records show that the Kabirvad tree is more than 300 years old. Another banyan tree planted by William Owen Smith in 1873 in Lahaina's Courthouse Square in Hawaii has grown to cover two-thirds of an acre.
- In rural India many villages and towns have a traffic circle, a bus stop and a community gathering place around a big old banyan tree. At night many people come to sit, relax and chat around it. There is usually a small deity placed and worshipped at its foot.
- The City of Vadodara & Valsad in western India are named after the banyan tree.
- Ta Prohm in the Angkor Wat temple complex of Cambodia is well known for the giant banyans that grow up, around and through its walls.
- Several banyans can be found near downtown Hilo, Hawaii. Some of them were planted by celebrities throughout the 20th century and form Banyan Drive.
- There are several impressive banyans to be found in the parks in Seville, Spain around the Santa Cruz district.
- Strangler figs also occur in areas of Australia such as the Daintree rainforest in Queensland's far north. Well known is the Curtain Fig Tree on the Atherton Tablelands.
- The first banyan tree in the continental U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Myers, Florida in an attempt with Henry Ford to find a more cost-effective way to produce rubber for car tires. The tree, originally only 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, now covers an acre of land on the estate.
- Two banyan trees stand in St. Petersburg, Florida's waterfront, North Straub Park and are the backdrop of many weddings and family vacation photos.
- One large Banyan tree called Kalpabata is there inside the premises of Jagannath Temple of Puri. It is considered as sacred by the devotees and is supposed to be of more than 500 years old.
- Robinson Crusoe, in the eponymous 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe, makes his home in a banyan tree.
- Brian Aldiss, in his novel Hothouse, describes a future Earth where a single huge banyan covers half of the globe, because individual trees discover the ability to join together, as well as drop adventitious roots.
- On the Steely Dan album Aja, the title track includes the lyrics: "Chinese music under banyan trees / Here at the dude ranch above the sea."
- The rock band The Dead has a song called "the Banyan Tree."
- In Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, he describes the giant tree-city of Revelwood being built out of a huge banyan with multiple trunks that occupies an entire valley.
- A banyan serves as an important metaphor the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Swamp."
- Banyan trees are scattered across the island in the hit TV Series Lost and they serve as refuge when the characters are being chased by the island's "Monster".
- In the multi-platform video game Lost: Via Domus John Locke frequently hides in the banyan trees and alerts characters to his whereabouts by repeatedly shouting, "Hey son, over here. I'm over here in the banyan trees."
- The popular ZX Spectrum game Jet Set Willy features a difficult room named "The Banyan Tree".
- The shadow under a giant banyan tree is worshipped by a fictional tribe in The Stone Dance of the Chameleon
- In the Halo franchise a banyan tree towers on the surface of Onyx, in which Kurt-051 has a small outpost at the top.
- Leaves of the Banyan Tree is a novel by Albert Wendt set in Samoa.
- In Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, the village of Titlipur is built around an enormous banyan tree, whose roots cover an area "half a mile in diameter." The tree is intrinsic to the village with some villagers building shelters in it and others living in the foliage.
- In Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, the banyan tree is used several times as a reference to describe a fictional life form native to Europa (moon).
- Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by R. K. Narayan, set in and around the fictitious town of Malgudi in South India.
- In The Mauritius Command, the fourth book of the Aubrey-Maturin series, author Patrick O'Brian mentions a banyan tree on îles Rodrigues 'which, rooting from its branches, made dark arcades that sheltered countless fruitbats the size of a moderate dove..'
- The banyan tree is used as an example of interdependence by Mark Moody-Stuart of Royal Dutch Shell in The Corporation when he says that “even someone living under a banyan tree is dependent upon support from someone and economic lack has to be addressed by everyone.”
- The banyan tree is the national Tree of India.
- The banyan is part of the coat of arms of Indonesia. It is meant to symbolize the unity of Indonesia - one country with many far-flung roots. As a giant tree, it also symbolizes power. Soeharto used it as a logo for his party, the Golongan Karya (Golkar), taking advantage of the deeply rooted belief of his fellow-countrymen and women in the sacred (sakti) nature of the banyan
- Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy personnel use the term "banyan" to mean a spell ashore for a barbecue on a deserted beach. "Banyan Rig" denotes the casual (and often traditionally tasteless) clothes worn for these events.
- The underground roots of a banyan species found in the Amazon are cut into 10 cm lengths, dried and smoked regularly to relieve pain. This practice originated in the Amazon.
- Paul Simon references the banyan in his 1990 song Spirit Voices, from the album The Rhythm of the Saints. In his tale of experiencing shamanism and ayahuasca he notes "We slept on the banks on the leaves of a banyan tree."
- In the song "Krakatowa" from her solo CD Perplexions, musical artist Melora Creager referenced banyan trees. In the song about the volcanic island, she sings, "On the dark side of the volcano, under the old banyan tree."
- The Economist, a British newspaper, features an opinion column covering topics pertaining to Asia named "Banyan".
- Train's 2012 single "Mermaid" on the album California 37 references the Banyan, "rescued you by the Banyan Tree".
- ^ "National Tree". Government of India Official website. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
- ^ Note usage of "Banyan" versus "banyan" in "Trees with a Difference: The Strangler Figs" PDF (61.0 KiB) by Vidya R. Athreya, Nature Watch, July 1997; also "Aerial-rooting banyan trees", washington.edu
- ^ Zhekun, Zhou & Michael G. Gilbert (2003) Flora of China (Moraceae) 5: 21-73. Harvard.edu
- ^ Serventy, V. 1984. Australian Native Plants. Victoria: Reed Books.
- ^ Light in the rainforest 1992 Tropical topics. Vol 1 No. 5 QLD.gov.au
- ^ The Lovely Plants.
- ^ 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.
- ^ Taipei Times, "Small is the old big", September 22, 2005
- ^ 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.
- ^ See, for instance, the automated search of the SLTP ed. of the Pali Canon for the root "nigrodh" which results in 243 matches, retrieved 22 November 2008 at Bodhgayanews.net.
- ^ 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).
- ^ Balete Tree
- ^ Guampdn.com, Ghost stories: Taotaomona, duendes and other spirits inhabit Guam
- ^ a b 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.
- ^ The fabulous trees of Seville
- ^ http://www.shreekhetra.com/sriinner.html
- ^ Globalnet.co.uk, Your Spectrum Issue 6, August 1984, Hacking Away - Jet Set Willy
- ^ "In the shade of the banyan tree". The Economist. 8 April 2009.
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