Saturday, April 10, 2010

The strange Banyan trees of Cambodia

By CECILIA S. ANGELES

April 10, 2010, 4:06pm
Banyan trees are very sacred among the Hindus.  Their colors and textures are far different from the true trunk and branches. (Photo by CECILIA S. ANGELES)
Banyan trees are very sacred among the Hindus. Their colors and textures are far different from the true trunk and branches. (Photo by CECILIA S. ANGELES)

Amazed at the weird trees literally clawing ancient temples, buildings, architectural structures, I asked our tour guide, Mr. Tann Bunto, to identify the tree during our tour at Siem Reap City. “Banyen tree,” he wrote on my notebook. I verified it in the dictionary and my encyclopedia. Both books gave banyan, both vowels marked short. I am amused no end at the growth of its roots which appear as extra trunks. Their colors and textures are far different from the true trunk and branches. The encyclopedia describes them as secondary trunks or branches. Banyan trees are very sacred among the Hindus. They also grow in Florida, Guam, Mexico, South America, and other warm regions. The Philippines is a warm country. Do banyan trees grow here also? I have not seen one growing in our country, or perhaps I have not been quite observant. Is the tall tree fronting the walls of Fort Santiago parking area in Intramuros a bayan tree? Some people claim it to be balete. Is balete also the banyan tree?

Roots (?) or branches protrude downward from their upper horizontal trunks and settle their lower ends in the soil or the structure beside them. I am amused no end at this strange tree. Some roots glide horizontally across roofs or facade walls of temples. The same structures penetrate easily to any nearby elements—whether growing or lifeless like bricks or stones. Others with no obstruction shoot vertically downward and bury their lower ends underground. Some creep about the ground forming graceful long lines which can cause amblers to trip if they do not notice the growth.

Banyan trees are native of the lower slopes of the Himalayas. They have large thick leaves and cherry-like fruit. Perhaps dropped by birds, their seeds are capable of sprouting even on branches of other trees where they happen to settle. The young banyan sprouts many roots in the air which bend downward perhaps because of gravity. These become the new trunks of banyan. Because a number of them grow in the same area, they grow in groves. Usually the host tree dies because the new groves consume the nutrients due the host tree. A banyan tree may produce as many as 3,000 trunks.

This tree is just like some people who grab what other people have. Despite its weird existence and unwelcomed habits, I enjoyed capturing banyan trees in Siem Reap City in Cambodia.

(Cecilia S. Angeles is a college professor and a regular lecturer at the Photography Workshop sponsored by FPPF at Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila. Email: csa_palay@palay.com )

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