Banyan (Ficus Benghalensis) or the Indian Fig Tree is the national tree of India. It’s native names include Bargad, Barh and the Vatavriksh. The name ‘banyan’ is ascribed by some to the village ‘bania’ (merchantman) who conducted his trade in the leafy shade of this evergreen tree that invariably occupies the
centre of the village square in India. The tree that is symbolic of Lord Shiva, is considered sacred and finds a mention in the ‘Bhagvad Gita’. It is the ‘male’ tree that is often planted close to the ‘female’ Peepul or Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa) and it’s a sacrilege to cut either of the two. The tree is characterized by its aerial prop roots that gradually grow into thick woody trunks and are indistinguishable from the main trunks. The tree has a life span of several hundred years and grows to a height of 20 metres. It can spread laterally over several acres and acquires a huge canopy. Alexander is said to have camped under a single banyan
with his 7000 troops!
The seeds of ‘bargad’ often germinate in the cracks and crevices of old buildings and bridges. The tree often grows on other trees and eventually its roots strangle the host tree. The tree is reasonably drought resistant.
The fig is originally green and hard and it turns soft and red like a cherry on ripening. It is not a fruit and is actually a fleshy bag for hundreds of tiny flowers that are pollinated by fig wasps. The fig is very popular amongst bird, bats, squirrels, monkeys, and insects.
While, the banayan dots the morni landscape yet, some of the trees form important landmarks on the drive to Morni. The shade of the banayan behind the signboard of Greenpark Restaurant, Mandana is a favourite resting point for bikers. A few kilometres further on towards Morni, after crossing the Mandana Valley is a banyan with prominent aerial roots. It’s a favourite photograph point for people bound for Morni and a big Guga Marhi temple is located on the other side of the road.