Sunday, September 23, 2018

Saving the Mighty Banyan Tree


A crane is used to try and save this banyan tree, by setting the tree upright.

A crane is used to try and save this banyan tree, by setting the tree upright.

As a result of Hurricane Irma’s fury, Marco Island suffered the loss of a lot of its old majestic signature trees. They were either uprooted, broken at the trunk or both. Magnificent Live Oaks and Banyan trees were not spared, as well as stately royals and queen palms along with fruit trees such as mangos, avocados and citrus trees. Few trees are suited for a Category 4-5 Hurricane such as Irma. Whether the trees were pruned or not, they fell to Irma’s destructive winds. Trees, it seems, were on Irma’s favorite list.

Janice Engel of Marco Island decided she wanted to save her massive Banyan Tree. It was a neighborhood landmark on the corner of Watson and S. Barfield. Typical of a banyan tree, its branches cascaded roots downwards. As it grew more mature the roots dangled like strands of uncombed hair. As they reached the ground, the roots grew more woody and thick and merged to form several trunks. The roots looked like pillars giving the banyan its “small forest” look. Janice was told that the banyan tree saved the house from the wrath of Hurricane Wilma. If you act quickly, you might be able to save a massive tree like a Banyan tree. It was a courageous and risky decision as a big crane “righted” Janice’s banyan tree upright; trimmed its top crown and now we wait!

Pre-Hurricane Irma: Healthy banyan tree at the top of Caxambas Drive and Indian Hill. Note the magnificent roots and wide canopy. Photos by Maria Lamb

Pre-Hurricane Irma: Healthy banyan tree at the top of Caxambas Drive and Indian Hill. Note the magnificent roots and wide canopy. Photos by Maria Lamb

Large trees such as the banyan tree have an extensive root system that is supposed to anchor the weight of its massive tree trunk and branches. Uprooting does severe damage to the roots and the remaining intact roots are not sufficient to anchor the tree or draw in water to nurture the tree branches. Significant breaks in the limbs and branches as it fell also adds to the stress. Moisture loss causes quick damage to entire tree from the roots to its crown.

Post Hurricane Irma: The tree was spared, and soon it will be putting out new leaves.

Post Hurricane Irma: The tree was spared, and soon it will be putting out new leaves.

The banyan tree (ficus benghalensis) – is one of a hundred species of fig tree, rich in cultural folklore. It is the National Tree of India and Bangladesh, where it is believed that Buddha sat under a banyan tree and meditated. It is also believed that the banyan roots never stop growing as they continue down into the earth, and lead to a truly eternal tree. Much like the phoenix arising from the ashes, if a banyan tree is hacked down, legends say it will use its power down below to come back.

This magnificent banyan tree, a Marco Island landmark at the intersection of Watson and S. Barfield, was uprooted by Irma. A neighbor is dwarfed by the size of its massive roots.

This magnificent banyan tree, a Marco Island landmark at the intersection of Watson and S. Barfield, was uprooted by Irma. A neighbor is dwarfed by the size of its massive roots.

So where did banyan trees come from? Like most things in Florida, someone brought it here. That someone was Thomas Edison, who planted the very first banyan tree in the Continental U.S. in Fort Myers, Florida in the late 1800s. The banyan tree is not a native, but an exotic imported tree like most of the trees in our landscape. But it did not matter – Hurricane Irma treated the native trees the same way it did with the exotics! It blew them down.

 

 

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