The Life of a Banyan Tree from Asia to Sarasota, Florida

Ever since I was a little girl I found myself utterly mesmerized at the sight of an enchanted forest. There were few things that could separate me from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Alice and Wonderland. Those dark ominous branches deep within far away woodlands meant more to me than I even knew at the time. Looking back, I now know they were a symbol of possibility, the possibility that if you challenge the darkest and most frightful of times, there’s bound to be adventure along the way -and with adventure there is always a happily ever after. Inversely, if you succumb to the darkness, you may never find your happy ending after all. So, like many times before, I found myself in search of the most enchanted forests my feet could find. I was at A.L. Anderson Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida when I saw my very first banyan tree. I had been there a few times growing up and had never noticed it before. It seemed out-of-place, near the water all alone. At first I thought it must be an anomaly. Nevertheless, it was perfect for climbing, and oh so very enchanted-like.

Christa Thompson Banyan Tree

The banyan tree is so curious to me and definitely enchanting.

It was about 6 months later when I spotted my second banyan tree in Sarasota, Florida. I was smitten that there was another tree, even bigger and more intricate than the first one I had seen. Then another, and another… They were everywhere in Sarasota. How is it that I had spent 16 years in Florida and had never known about these curious trees?

Banyan Tree in Tarpon Springs

The first banyan tree I ever saw in 2011. The Little and his best bugs climbing when he was just 3 years old.

Soon after my second discovery I moved to Sarasota, and began to see banyan trees everywhere. They started to become a part of my daily life. Pretty soon I was sitting beneath them to write, my son climbing them and running between their confusing labyrinthine branches, or trunks, or whatever they are…I still can’t tell. The banyan trees were so impossibly extraordinary -so much that finally one day I had to know more! And so I began to research the life of a banyan tree.

Banyan Tree 2

These branches never end!

What I Know About the Banyan Tree

The banyan tree is most commonly found in India and Bangladesh where it is considered sacred in both places. Naturally this would be the case as I am almost always most attracted to places and things related to legend, myth and lore. I don’t know why this is, but these sort of things just stand out to me…and so I read on.

The tree begins life as an epiphyte on a host tree, gathering its nourishment and water from the air. As it grows, its lateral branches send down supporting roots that become absorbing roots when they reach the ground. Eventually, the host tree is smothered as the banyan continues to send out more branches and roots. The mature Banyan’s canopy may cover an area more than 1,000 feet in diameter. The stems below the canopy form a kind of columned room. – Banyantree.org

the Little and the Banyan Tree 5

You can’t beat hide and seek here!

So where did this thing come from? Like most things in Florida, someone brought it here… That someone was good old Thomas Edison who planted the very first banyan tree in the Continental U.S. right in Fort Myers, Florida in the late 1800′s. That’s right, just an hour south of Sarasota, Florida (light bulb turns on, pun intended).

The Little and the Banyan Tree

The Little couldn’t resist making his way in and out of the tree’s tunnels. can you imagine being a kid and playing dragon slayer here?

This banyan tree, a gift to Mr. Edison from Harvey Firestone which once stood just 4 feet tall, now covers a colossal acre of land on the Seminole Lodge Estate (the former Florida retreat for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Edison currently operated as the Edison and Ford Winter Estates). Pretty cool when you think about it, and that’s just a small part of the life of a banyan tree.

The Little and the Banyan Tree 3

The Little can’t get enough of this banyan tree in Sarasota, Florida photo by Christa Thompson 2013

The Banyan Tree and Baby Krishna, India

In Hinduism it is believed that the resting place for the god of Krishna is on the leaf of a banyan tree. It is a sacred tree and is thought of as perfectly symbolizing eternal life due to its seemingly unending expansion.

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.” -Krishna, in the Bhagavat Gita

baby-krishna-on-a-banyan-tree-leaf

Baby Krishna on a banyan tree leaf by krishnapath.org

Vat Vriksha” in Sanskrit, in Telugu known as: ‘మర్రి వృక్షము ‘ ; Marri Vrikshamu and in Tamil known as: ‘ஆல மரம்’ ; Ala Maram. The god Shiva as Dakshinamurthy is nearly always depicted sitting in silence under the banyan with rishis at his feet. -Wikipedia

Tsuen Wishing Tree Banyan Tree Hong Kong

The Tsuen Wishing Tree

The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are Banyan Trees, Hong Kong

A popular shrine in Hong Kong. The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees  are located near the Tin Hau Temple in Fong Ma Po Village, in Taipo Lam Tsuen. The temple was built around 1768 or 1771, during the reign of Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

During the Lunar New Year, tourists and locals frequent the banyan trees. At one time they burned joss sticks, wrote their wishes on joss paper (that they tied to an orange) and would throw them up to hang among the tree branches. If it stuck, their wish would come true. Sadly, in 2005, this practice stopped when a branch broke and injured people below. Now, wooden racks are used to replace the tradition, and the trees are well preserved.

Tikbalang Banyan Tree

Tikbalang by 365greatpinoystuff

The Banyan Tree is a Home to Evil Spirits, Philippines

In Philippine Mythology, the banyan is thought of as home to a host of spirits and demonic creatures.

Duende (elves), kapre (forest monster) tikbalang (half-man half-horse creature), manananggal (monster witch)….the list goes on, Philippine mythology is often a goldmine of fantasy and horror creatures. -365 Great Pinoy Stuff

Filipino children are taught to never point at a mature banyan to avoid pissing off any spirits. Instead they are to whisper words of respect to the spirits to avoid harm, illness, suffering and death. (source Wikipedia)

banyan_tree-by-herb-kawainui-kane

A depiction of the banyan by Herb Kawainui Kane

Fairies, Prehistoric People, and Ancient Chamorro Guard the Banyan Trees, Guam

In Guam, Chamorro people believe and tell legends of Taotaomona (prehistoric peoples), Duendes (fairies, goblins) and other spirits of the ancient Chamorro that are thought to be guardians of banyan trees. (source Wikipedia)

All in all, my research turned out to be quite for filling. My attraction to these mysterious earthbound wonders led me far from this tangible planet on a journey through thousands of years of mythology. I never would have imagined that my curiosity of a tree 10 minutes from my home would have taken me around the world. The life of a banyan tree is far more complex than just this very superficial blog post. It is an interesting wonder that I will continue to investigate with time.


About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

19 Comments on this post

  1. So freaking awesome!!

    Joseph Pinto / Reply
  2. Its a beautiful article dear it is full of information
    thank you very much dear loved it very much

    Nice reading about you

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Be in touch. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may find something of your interest.

    Ajaytao2010 / Reply
  3. Fantastic article and photos, Christa.

    Scott Malthouse / Reply
  4. Great post. I have so many childhood memories of climbing banyan trees – I always thought if I could get to the top (I never did) there must be something magical there that you couldn’t see from the ground! Jx

    Jade / Reply
  5. What a fantastic tree! This is a really outstanding post, brilliant work!

    ztevetevans / Reply

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