Friday, June 20, 2014

One, or many?

Spread over about 1.5 acres, this specimen of Ficus benghalensis is one of the largest in the country and maybe the oldest one as well. The Great Banyan of Kolkata and the Thimmamma Marrimanu at Anantapur cover a much greater area than this one, but it is very likely that this tree is much older than either of them. The Adyar aalamaram (Adyar banyan), as it is called, is supposedly over 450 years old, which if true would make it about 200 years older than the other giants. 

This tree is part of Huddleston Gardens, the seat of the Theosophical Society in Chennai. If it was to have a street address, it would be listed as Schwarz Avenue. That is because the avenue runs along the southern border of the tree's extent. On the other sides, there are no roads, just more vegetation. A fence marks the boundary; the banyan of course does not respect such confines and its branches have already arched over the road and put down aerial roots.

The main trunk of the tree was brought down by storm winds during a cyclone in 1989. Some effort was made to revive the trunk, but it was futile. The main trunk is gone, but the tree continues to live on. But that has prompted some to opine that the Adyar aalamaram cannot be considered a tree anymore, but should be a 'tree system'. Clearly, they are missing the woods for a tree!

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