The Great Banyan Tree
Mayukh Saha
Mayukh Saha
July 10, 2024 ·  3 min read

Explore The Great Banyan, a Living Giant Spanning Nearly 5 Acres

Nestled within the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden in Shibpur, Howrah, near the bustling city of Kolkata, stands an extraordinary spectacle – The Great Banyan Tree. This living giant, a banyan tree or Ficus Benghalensis, isn’t just any botanical marvel. It’s a colossal green beast that commands the awe of visitors more than the garden’s vast collection of exotic flora spanning five continents.

Magnitude Unveiled: The Great Banyan’s Staggering Dimensions

The Great Banyan Tree from a distance
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Just how big is it? The area occupied by The Great Banyan is 4.67 acres or about 18,918 square meters – about the size of a cricket pitch! With origins tracing back before the year 1800, this tree is a silent witness to centuries of history, having graced the pages of travel books since the 19th century. At a height of 80 feet (24.5 meters) and a canopy circumference that stretches an impressive 1,594 feet (486 meters), it’s easy to mistake this single tree for a dense forest. In 1925, the tree faced a literal life-or-death situation. Struck by two cyclones, its main trunk succumbed to fungal infection.

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The Resilient Survivor: Triumph Over Adversity

A marker for the removed main trunk
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The solution? Amputate the trunk to save the rest of the organism. Since then, the tree has thrived trunkless, supported by 3,772 aerial roots that function like natural wooden pillars, constantly creeping outward, much to the chagrin of local road planners who have found themselves outpaced by its growth. The Great Banyan hasn’t just survived; it’s flourished, occasionally snacking on cyclones—1864, 1867, and the recent 2020 Cyclone Amphan—like they were mere morsels, albeit with some damage to its aerial roots. Today, a 1,083-foot (330-meter) road encircles it, although the tree seems unimpressed, continuing to spread beyond these human boundaries.

Exploring The Great Banyan: An Adventure in Itself

The many aerial roots
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Visiting this botanical behemoth isn’t just a walk in the park. It’s an exploration of a natural labyrinth where the heart of the maze holds a marker stone for the original trunk, now obscured like a treasure in a fable, hidden beneath the dense weave of roots and branches. As the inner reaches of the Great Banyan remain less traveled, most visitors choose to explore its expansive, more accessible perimeter, enjoying the spectacular view from a distance and allowing their imaginations to wander.

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The Great Banyan Is A Living Record

More aerial roots
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1989 as the world’s largest tree specimen (now surpassed by Thimmamma Marrimanu), The Great Banyan offers more than just shade and shelter. It offers stories and a vivid illustration of nature’s capacity to amaze and entertain.

An Ever-Expanding Legacy: The Great Banyan’s Progeny

The aerial roots make a pathway
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Great Banyan’s ability to produce new roots from its branches has allowed it to continually expand, creating numerous offspring around its original base, which contribute to its forest-like appearance. Yes, visitors are welcome to explore the periphery of The Great Banyan, which offers a unique view into the scale and beauty of this massive tree, although the innermost areas remain less accessible. Efforts to conserve The Great Banyan include maintaining the surrounding infrastructure to support the sprawling roots and managing the health of the tree through careful monitoring and botanical care.

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