Ficus benghalensis L.

First published in Sp. Pl.: 1059 (1753)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is Indian Subcontinent, Andaman Islands. It is a tree and grows primarily in the seasonally dry tropical biome. It is has environmental uses and social uses, as animal food and a medicine and for food.

Descriptions

Kew Species Profiles

General Description
Banyan is a type of strangling fig native to India and Pakistan. Known in Hindu mythology as 'the wish-fulfilling tree', banyans represent eternal life.

Native to India and Pakistan, banyan is a type of strangling fig. The plant begins life growing on other trees and eventually envelops them completely. Aerial roots hang down from the branches and these eventually become trunks. This circle of trunks deriving from one original tree can reach an enormous size - 200 metres in diameter and 30 metres in height.

Their welcome shade has made them important gathering places. Known in Hindu mythology as 'the wish-fulfilling tree', banyans represent eternal life. 

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Native to Asia (India and Pakistan). Naturally occuring in tropical forests throughout the subcontinent.

Description

Overview: Tree, often very large, up to 30 m tall, with many aerial roots which can develop into new trunks so that the tree goes on spreading laterally indefinitely; a single tree can thus cover a very wide area.

Leaves: The leaves are leathery, entire, ovate or elliptic, 20-40 cm long with prominent lateral veins.

Fruits: The figs are 1 to 2 cm in diameter, without stalks, in pairs in leaf axils, and when ripe are bright red.

Uses

Ornamental/Traditions and beliefs

The tree is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists in India and is frequently planted around temples. Being a majestic ornamental tree it is also planted in parks and along streets in the tropics. In temperate climates it is grown as a houseplant.

Production of shellac

Banyan is used in the production of shellac, an important ingredient of French polish. Shellac is derived from a resinous secretion called lac, produced by various insects living on the tree, the most commercially important of which is the lac insect ( Laccifer lacca ). Shellac has many industrial uses, and is an ingredient of hair lacquer. Lac dye is used in skin cosmetics.

Medicine

Banyan has many uses in traditional medicine, for example, the milky sap is applied externally for treating pains and bruises, and is a remedy for toothache. Despite this, scientists are only now beginning to investigate the plant, for example leucocyanids, which may have potential for treating diabetes, have been isolated from the tree .

Banyan wood is hard, and durable in water. Although considered to be of little value, it is used for furniture and house building. The wood from aerial roots is stronger and is used as poles and for cart yokes.

Fibres

Fibre from the bark is used for making paper and ropes.

Food and drink

Banyan fruits can be eaten fresh or dried, and the young leaves and shoots are also eaten as famine food.

Cultivation

A tender plant that is drought-resistant, it is grown indoors in the UK, however it is a common street tree in tropical countries. Use well-drained, organic compost and Ficus benghalensis benefits from regular feed with a balanced NPK fertilizer.

Its pollinator is a single species of wasp, Eupristina masoni , which is not present in the UK. Thus, no viable seeds produced away from the tropics.

Propagation by apical or inter-nodal cuttings in light, free-draining compost in a high heat and humidity environment. Plants exude latex when cut. To stop bleeding dip cut part into charcoal powder. It can also be propagated from fresh seeds soaked in hot water for 12 hours.

This species at Kew

Banyan can be seen growing in the Palm House at Kew.

Distribution
India
Ecology
Tropical forest, but frequently cultivated elsewhere in the tropics.
Conservation
Not threatened
Hazards

The latex of various species of Ficus can cause allergic skin reactions and contact with the eyes should be avoided.

[KSP]

Extinction risk predictions for the world's flowering plants to support their conservation (2024). Bachman, S.P., Brown, M.J.M., Leão, T.C.C., Lughadha, E.N., Walker, B.E. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.19592

Conservation
Predicted extinction risk: not threatened. Confidence: confident
[AERP]

Bernal, R., G. Galeano, A. Rodríguez, H. Sarmiento y M. Gutiérrez. 2017. Nombres Comunes de las Plantas de Colombia. http://www.biovirtual.unal.edu.co/nombrescomunes/

Vernacular
caucho, caucho cartagenero
[UNAL]

Distribution
Biogeografic region: Caribbean. Elevation range: 5–5 m a.s.l. Cultivated in Colombia. Colombian departments: Magdalena.
Habit
Tree.
Ecology
Habitat according IUCN Habitats Classification: shrubland, artificial - terrestrial.
[UPFC]

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Cultivada en Colombia; Alt. 5 - 5 m.; Llanura del Caribe.
Morphology General Habit
Árbol
[CPLC]

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/63084/143297866

Conservation
LC - least concern
[IUCN]

Uses

Use
Ornamental, medicinal, traditions & beliefs, food, fibres, dyes, construction.
[KSP]

Use Animal Food
Used as animal food.
Use Environmental
Environmental uses.
Use Food
Used for food.
Use Materials
Used as material.
Use Medicines
Medical uses.
Use Social
Social uses.
[UPFC]

Common Names

English
Banyan, Banyan Tree, Krishna Fig

Sources

  • Angiosperm Extinction Risk Predictions v1

    • Angiosperm Threat Predictions
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0
  • Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Colombian resources for Plants made Accessible

    • ColPlantA 2021. Published on the Internet at http://colplanta.org
    • https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • IUCN Categories

    • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2024. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Living Collection Database

    • Common Names from Plants and People Africa http://www.plantsandpeopleafrica.com/
  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2024. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Science Photographs

    • Copyright applied to individual images
  • Kew Species Profiles

    • Kew Species Profiles
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Universidad Nacional de Colombia

    • ColPlantA database
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Useful Plants and Fungi of Colombia

    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0