banyan băn´yən [key], species of fig (Ficus bengalensis) of the family Moraceae (mulberry family), native to India, where it is venerated. Its seeds usually germinate in the branches of some tree where they have been dropped by birds. The young plant puts forth aerial rootlets, which, on reaching the ground, take root to form secondary trunks to support the giant horizontal limbs. Branches from these trunks ultimately send down more such prop roots until the banyan crowds out the host tree and becomes grovelike in appearance, often covering large areas. This undergrowth is sometimes trimmed to form arbors. Alexander the Great is said to have camped under a banyan tree that was big enough to shelter his whole army of 7,000 men. The seeds frequently germinate on walls and buildings, causing considerable damage, as do the related strangling figs of tropical America. Banyan is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Urticales, family Moraceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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