AskDefine | Define banyan

Dictionary Definition



1 East Indian tree that puts out aerial shoots that grow down into the soil forming additional trunks [syn: banyan tree, banian, banian tree, Indian banyan, East Indian fig tree, Ficus bengalensis]
2 a loose fitting jacket; originally worn in India [syn: banian]

User Contributed Dictionary





  • /ˈbænjən/


Extensive Definition

A banyan is a fig that starts its life as an epiphyte 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 species Ficus benghalensis, though the term has been generalized to include all figs that share a unique life cycle, and sytematically to refer to the subgenus Urostigma The seeds of banyans are dispersed by fruit-eating birds. The seeds germinate and send down roots towards the ground, and may envelope part of the host tree or building structure with their roots, giving them 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.
Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots which grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area. The largest such tree is now found in Kolkata in India. One of the most famous of banyan trees was planted in Kabirvad, Gujarat. Records show that Kabirvad is more than 300 years old. Another famous banyan tree was planted in 1873 in Lahaina's Courthouse Square in Hawai'i, and has now grown to cover two-thirds of an acre.
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. Banyan, Ficus benghalensis or the Indian Fig Tree is the National tree of India .


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, banyan means "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 came to mean the tree itself. Today, the banyan is considered sacred in India and Pakistan, where it represents eternal life because of its seemingly ever-expanding branches.


The proper noun Banyan refers specifically to the species F. benghalensis, which can grow into a giant tree covering several hectares. Over time, the name became generalized to all strangler figs. It appears that "banyan" is the more common term in Asia, Australia and Oceania, while "strangler fig" is more often used in the Americas and Africa. 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

* In Hindu religion, the banyan tree is considered sacred and is called "Ashwath Vriksha" ("I am Banyan tree among trees" - Bhagavad Gita). It represents eternal life because of its seemingly ever-expanding branches.
  • In Hindu mythology, the banyan tree is also called kalpavriksha meaning 'wish fulfilling divine tree'. In modern parlance in the Hindi language, it is known as Bargad, Vatavriksh, and Barh.
  • In many stories of Philippine Mythology, the banyan, (locally known as balite) is said to be home to a variety of spirits and demon-like creatures (among the Visayans, specifically, dili ingon nato,meaning "things not like us"). Maligno (Mystical creatures) associated with it include the kapre (a giant), dwende (dwarves), and especially the tikbalang (a creature whose top half is a horse and whose bottom half is a human).
  • 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.* City of Vadodara in western India is named after 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 the Banyan Drive.
  • 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 U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Myers, Florida. It was given to Edison by Harvey Firestone after Firestone visited India in 1925 and was planted in the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The tree, originally only tall, now covers .* Robinson Crusoe, in the 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"
  • 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.* The banyan is part of the coat of arms of Indonesia. It is meant to symbolise the unity of Indonesia - one country with many far-flung roots.
  • Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy personnel use the term "banyan" to mean a spell ashore for a BBQ on some 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. There are no visible side effects.


In reliogion and mythology section, it has been mentioned that banyan is also called as ashwaththa vriksha but, this is not entirely correct. ashwaththa vriksha is frequenctly used to refer to ficus religiosa ('Arali mara' in Kannada)and not a banyan tree even though banyan tree is also a sacred tree. We also use small twigs of ficus religiosa in certain "homa" (havan); They are called samidhas.
banyan in German: Banyan-Feige
banyan in Spanish: Baniano
banyan in French: Figuier des Banyans
banyan in Malay (macrolanguage): Pokok Jejawi
banyan in Min Dong Chinese: Sṳ̀ng-chéu (Hók-ciŭ chê-chéu)
banyan in Japanese: ガジュマル
banyan in Norwegian: Banyan
banyan in Polish: Figowiec bengalski
banyan in Albanian: Ficus benghalensis
banyan in Slovak: Figovník bengálsky
banyan in Finnish: Banian
banyan in Swedish: Banyan
banyan in Telugu: మర్రి
banyan in Vietnamese: Cây đa
banyan in Tonga (Tonga Islands): ʻOvava
banyan in Ukrainian: Баньян
banyan in Chinese: 榕亞屬
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