|An Indian banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) in front of the Edison museum in Fort Myers, Florida|
Ficus indica L.
Ficus benghalensis, the Indian banyan, is a large and extensive growing tree of the Indian subcontinent. Ficus benghalensis produces propagating roots which grow downwards as aerial roots. Once these roots reach the ground, they grow into woody trunks that can become indistinguishable from the main trunk.
The figs are eaten by birds and mammals. Fig seeds are dispersed by birds such as the Indian Mynas and studies have shown that seeds that pass through the digestive system of the bird are more likely to germinate as well as sprout earlier.
Other names are also known as 'Bengal fig', 'Indian fig', also bargad/برگد, borh/بوڑھ, wad (Marathi:वड ). In Tamil it is known as aalamaram (ஆலமரம்). In Telugu, it is known as marrichettu. Sanskrit names include nyagrodha. In Kannada it is known as aalada mara. In Malayalam it is known as aalmaram.
This tree is considered sacred in India, and often shelters a little or larger temple underneath, but is offered worship on its own generally too, and especially so on one particular full moon day in summer when the full moon occurs near the last star of the constellation Scorpius but definitely before beginning of Sagittarius . Even apart from the worship, it is one of the most sheltering trees in the heat of the land, with a large and deep shade, and is thus extremely useful for travellers of the old sort - on foot, bicycles or oxcarts, or horse riders - travelling for hours or days; traditionally it was found almost ubiquitously on roads and in village centres, the latter very useful for any formal or informal gathering to be conducted in a cool place or even for any poor person or a traveller to sleep under . The respect for this and other trees of this nature is thus linked both to the use and the worship as sacred. Also known as Indian Banyan, Ficus bengalensis is also the National tree of the Republic of India.
The giant banyan trees of India are the largest trees in the world, as measured by canopy coverage. In these trees, a network of interconnected stems and branches has grown entirely by vegetative, "branching" propagation. One individual, Thimmamma Marrimanu, in Andhra Pradesh, covers 19,107 square metres, making it the largest single tree by two-dimensional canopy coverage area. This tree is also the world's largest known tree by a related measure, perimeter length, with a distance of 846 metres required to walk around the edge of the canopy. Thimmama Marrimanu is likely also the world's largest tree by three-dimensional canopy volume.
The Great Banyan in the Indian Botanic Garden, Howrah, is considered to be one of the largest trees in the world in terms of area covered . Two other well known large trees of this species are one in Uttar Pradesh near Varanasi and another in Karnataka near Bangalore called Dodda Alada Mara. The circumference of the whole complex of trees grown from the one central ancestor - still very much alive and all connected to it by the roots visible well over human height - is measured in kilometers. On the banks of the Narmada stood a celebrated specimen, supposed to be that described by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander the Great. This tree once covered an area so immense, that it was known to shelter no fewer than 7000 men, and though much reduced in size by the destructive power of floods, the remainder was described by James Forbes (1749–1819) in his Oriental Memoirs (1813–1815) as nearly 2000 ft. in circumference, while the trunks large and small exceeded 3000 in number.
- Midya, S.; Brahmachary, R. L. (1991) "The Effect of Birds Upon Germination of Banyan (Ficus bengalensis) Seeds". Journal of Tropical Ecology. 7(4):537-538.
- Simoons, F.J. (1998). Plants of Life, Plants of Death. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299159047.
- "National Tree". Govt. of India Official website.
- Bar-Ness, YD (March 2013). "Giant Banyans - The World's Largest Trees?". GEO (89).
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fig". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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