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Explore The Great Banyan, a Living Giant Spanning 4.67 Acres

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Explore The Great Banyan, a Living Giant Spanning 4.67 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.

Just how big is it? The area occupied by The Great Banyan is 4.67 acres, or about 18,918 square metres – about the size of a cricket pitch!

The Great Banyan, India

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.

The Great Banyan, however, is not just old but massive; it makes the Gateway of India look modest by comparison.

At a height of 80 feet (24.5 metres) and a canopy circumference that stretches an impressive 1,594 feet (486 metres), 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.

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 metre) road encircles it, although the tree seems unimpressed, continuing to spread beyond these human boundaries.

The Great Banyan Outgrowing the perimeter fence
Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via 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.

Main_Trunk_Spot_-_Great_Banyan_Tree_-_Indian_Botanic_Garden_-_Howrah_2012-09-20_0064
Main Trunk Marker Stone – Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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. So, if you’re ever in Kolkata, take a detour to Shibpur. Meet this arboreal celebrity—but don’t expect an autograph; it’s notoriously hard to pin down!

Digging Deeper

Location

The Great Banyan is located in the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden in Shibpur, Howrah, close to Kolkata, India.

Type of Tree

This giant tree is a Banyan tree, scientifically known as Ficus benghalensis, renowned for its vast canopy and multitude of aerial roots.

Is The Great Banyan Still Alive?

Despite the loss of its main trunk in 1925 due to fungal infection, The Great Banyan continues to thrive, supported by thousands of aerial roots that form a dense and sprawling forest-like structure.

Some of the many aerial roots of The Great Banyan Tree
Some of the many aerial roots of The Great Banyan Tree

Descendants

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.

Can You Visit It?

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.

Conservation

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.

Inside The Great Banyan Tree

Legacy


The Great Banyan, once celebrated by the Guinness Book of World Records for having the widest canopy of any tree, has been surpassed by Thimmamma Marrimanu.

Despite this, it remains a unique natural wonder, attracting both casual visitors and dedicated researchers with its sprawling roots and impressive structure.

Want More?

Intrigued by The Great Banyan?

Discover other unique trees that captivate imaginations around the world.

Wander through the ancient Jomon Sugi on Yakushima Island, a majestic cedar that has weathered millennia.

Experience the ethereal beauty of Lake Kaindy and its Ghostly Sunken Forest, where trees hauntingly emerge from crystal-clear waters.

Visit the Sunland Baobab in South Africa, notable for its massive trunk that once housed a pub inside.

Contemplate the Royal Oak, an ancient tree that holds centuries of heritage and history, with each branch rich in stories from the past.

And explore the Tree of 40 Fruit, an artistic arboreal creation that blossoms with forty different types of fruit, showcasing the marvels of grafting artistry.

Each of these trees offers a unique story and an unforgettable experience, just like The Great Banyan.

Featured Image Credit: Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Source – Wikipedia

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!