February 21, 2008


" Chinese music under Banyan Trees.... "
-Steely Dan, Aja

The Banyan Tree of St. Petersburg

I found another fabulous Florida tree near the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art. Ficus benghalensis is commonly referred to as the 'strangler fig. ' It starts life as an epiphyte, a plant that attaches itself to another.

The banyan tree may start from a seed dropped into a palm tree. It begins to send out shoots that wrap themselves around the trunk of the palm and eventually kill it. The long dangling rope-like vines you see hanging from the tree above eventually reach the ground where they take root and grow into another trunk. They keep spreading these roots and can, over time, cover an entire acre.

I saw a newspaper story of an old man whose humble little "cracker" house as they call them here was enveloped by the Banyan tree.

The banyan orginally came from India where it is considered sacred. The first Banyan tree in the U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Meyers, Florida and is one of the largest in the world.

This must've been the tree that Tarzan swung from in the jungle. It was in fact the tree that Robinson Crusoe built his home in. Brian Aldiss in his novel HOTHOUSE has the Banyan tree taking over the world when it discovers its ability to join with other tree and drop its far reaching roots.


  1. This is really neat, Carolyn, because while I read some blogs written by Florida gardeners, you are posting with the eye of a gardener, a garden visitor, AND a designer, so your observations of what you see around Tampa are triply informative and fun. Do you think it's more challenging to design for Chicago's climate, or more rewarding, or would Florida be more of both?

    Did you ever read John Wyndham's novel, 'Day of the Triffids', about the maneating plants? Let's hope the Banyans don't discover THAT little habit.
    Oh, and please send some more Florida heat our way...we have sunlight, but the brief thaw is over and we're shiverin' in the teens again. But at least there's no ice so my horse is still able to get out and play.

  2. Thanks, Jodi. Both climates have their challenges but as for me I much prefer the challenge of heat to cold. Guess that's because I grew up in the South and anything below 70 is COLD to me.

    No I haven't read 'Day of the Triffids' but it sounds intriguing, a lot like the Hothouse novel.

  3. In The Little Prince, the title character visits a planet that has been engulfed by a great Banyan tree. I had no idea that the Banyan was the strangler fig. Wow!

  4. I remember Robinson Crusoe's home and the vines of Tarzan, but not Hothouse. Must peruse.

    The first SCIFI book I ever read was "Day of the Triffids" and it's remembered every summer when we drive through miles and miles of hills, trees, light poles and anything standing covered in Kudzu. Kudzu is a Triffid, of that I'm certain. A spreading, never-ceasing, always-there Triffid. It's a good read - you would enjoy it!

    This Banyan Tree is amazing. I must check in with my buddy, Cindy, who lives in Tampa and see if she's experienced this amazing tree. Wonderfully magical story about the Ficus benghalensis - thanks you SO much for posting this traveling tale!

  5. Not more magical than a giraffe head tree , I'd say.

    Jodi mentioned the 'Day of the Triffids ." BTW, kudzu has been spotted in Evanston, outside Chicago ! Scary, eh ?

    Your friend in Miami must be acquainted with the Banyan tree. The one in Fort Myers is a big attraction for visitors.

  6. Very interesting! I didn't know anything about these trees, very cool!

  7. My brother, who lived in West Palm Beach, said that Parrots caused this plant to spread. He said they would build their nest in the tops of the palms--poo there--and the seed pod was in the poo. Do you know if this is how it is spread? He would go out and shoo the birds off the tops of the trees!! Is Florida losing their palms cause of this?

  8. It is true that fig-eating birds deposited a seed for the start of a banyan tree. Don't know about all the bird poo, Anna, but it makes sense. Isn't it amazing that the roots it produces are aerial roots that hang down from horizontal branches and take root where they touch the ground. Then those "prop roots" hold up the massive limbs.I guess that's why it can eventually spread over an area of several acres.

    Funny too that we don't have them over here on our side of the bay. But south of here they are quite common.

    We are getting some much needed rain this morning which pushed me back inside. I don't mind I got 3 hours in the garden this morning and we are desperate for rain.

    Did I tell you how much fun I'm having reading your posts about "my stomping grounds"? Just kidding- I know I keep saying it - hope you don't mind... keep writing.

  9. Thanks, Meem. It was quite a nice downpour we had. I heard that Georgia and Alabama got some pretty good rain for their drought-stricken areas but could still use more.

    Of course I don't mind. I'm enjoying my visit here in your lovely state and I can't help but muse about the outstanding flora.

  10. The strangler fig is considered the smartest tree. In order to insure germination will take place the seed must be eaten by an animal and pass thru the digestive system. This is why most of the time you will see the strangler fig attached to a palm tree. The animals are eating the seeds and leaving them in the trees.
    The Strangler fig is also considered to be so smart due to the fact that as the branches become so large,the tree decides to drop a root out of the branch to support the weight which allows them to grow so huge! I have one starting in my back yard, I am going to manipulat the root system to shape the tree into something really cool looking!


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