The banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) close to Cambodia’s famed Ta Prohm temple is a horticultural wonder. Part of the Moraceae family, banyan hails from India and tropical Africa. But it is most noted for its genesis: Birds, which eat the banyan’s fig-like fruit, drop the seeds into the canopy of other trees. The seeds grow into an epiphyte; that is, a plant that uses another plant as a mechanical support.
The banyan pulls its nourishment and water from the air, leading the nascent banyan tree to develop branches. These descend laterally and once in contact with the earth develop a root system underground to become the trunks of the tree. Over time, the banyan strangles the host tree.
The banyan tree’s wood is soft and porous and the plant exudes a white sticky sap that is about three percent latex, which can be used to make rubber. At his winter estate in Florida Thomas Edison explored the possibility of using the tree to produce rubber for American industry and defense. Eventually Edison concluded the banyan was too slow growing and he turned instead to goldenrod, which also produces latex, perfecting a 10-foot tall hybrid. The synthetic chemical industry, however, soon put the Edison Botanic Corporation out of business. (Photo by Lynn Koch)