The banyan tree is a member of the Ficus genus or fig family. It is a large, imposing shade tree with an interesting growth habit. The stems and limbs send out numerous aerial roots that grow downward and help support the wide canopy. In its natural habitat of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the banyan tree can get up to 100 feet tall and the spreading roots may cover an acre or more. The wood is considered soft and not commercially useful.
The banyan tree is a tropical to semi-tropical tree that is found in warm season climates around the world. The tree can grow in United States Department of Agriculture zones 10 to 12. It is also a houseplant and remains small when in containers. The huge tree actually starts out as an epiphyte, which grows on another tree or plant and then begins to send out roots. Banyan trees have large, dark green, rubbery leaves and produce a deep red fruit that is edible but not flavorful. The wood of the roots is thick and strong while the trunk and limbs have lightweight wood that is durable in water.
The banyan is often planted around temples and is a sacred tree to Hindus and Buddhists. The sap of the tree has historic medicinal uses. The sap is latex and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for treatment of the bowels, ulcers, vomiting and leprosy, among many other complaints. Purdue University says another system, Unani medicine, also has a wide range of uses for the wood as an aphrodisiac, tonic, and treatments for dysentery, liver ailments and many more. The tree has a long history of use as a curative and preventative among people in its native range.
In India the large leaves can be used as plates, and in the case of the cultivar 'Krishnae' or Krishna's Cup, the plant is used as a bowl. The sap can be made into bird lime or may be used to finish metal art. A gum is made from cooking the sap down. Fibers are taken from the aerial roots and bark and made into rope. The tree is host to a series of insects that secrete a dark brown sticky resin. This resin is collected and made into shellac, which has a wide variety of industrial applications.
Banyan wood may be used as paper pulp. The soft, spongy wood has no value in construction and cannot be burned as firewood. If the wood is carefully seasoned and only the hardest heartwood is used, it can be made into furniture. More likely uses of the wood are in well curbs, boxes and door panels. The wood from the roots is considerably stronger and more useful. It is used for tent poles, yokes, shafts and other load-bearing wood products.