I didn't know much about Banyan Trees, besides the fact that they are really impressive looking and I couldn't resist photographing them! Here's what I learned with a little online research:
Banyan trees are native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They are sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. They are often planted around temples in those countries and are commonly used in city parks and botanic gardens in Florida and other tropical areas.
It is a FIG tree and a member of the mulberry family. The other fascinating thing about it is that it starts out as an epiphyte. What is an epiphyte, you say? Wikipedia provides the following definition:
An epiphyte is a plant that grows non-parasitically upon another plant (such as a tree),
and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris
accumulating around it instead of the structure it is fastened to.
So, a bird eats a fig from a banyan tree, flies into a palm tree (for example) and poops out a tree seed on the tree top. An epiphyte is born and as it grows, it sends roots DOWN from horizontal branches which eventually take root when they touch the ground. Eventually, I would assume that the banyan tree strangles out the palm tree and takes over completely.
Banyan trees can grow up to 100 feet tall and spread over an area of several acres. There is a famous tree in Poona, India which is said to measure 1/2 mile around and is able to shelter 2000 people. Whoa. Also a fun fact: In India, the edible leaves are used as plates!
At the Thomas Edison winter estate in Fort Myers, Florida, there is also a famous banyan tree. He originally planted it there because he, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone, hoped to use its sap to create natural rubber. Their idea didn't pan out, but the tree remains. We visited the estate in 2007. It's a great stop and has a wonderful museum.
Thomas Edison Winter Estate banyan tree (Fort Myers, FL)
Seagate Dr, Naples, FL
Naples, FL zoo