Banyan (Cuban Laurel)

The banyan tree has fascinating lore and an even interesting reason as to how it made its way to the sunshine state. A banyan is a fig (Ficus benghalensis) that starts its life as an epiphyte, or a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. As it grows, its lateral branches send down supporting roots that become absorbing roots when they reach the ground. Eventually, the host tree is smothered as the banyan continues to send out more branches and roots. The mature banyan’s canopy may cover an area more than 1,000 feet in diameter. 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 that are lighter in density.

The banyan tree is most commonly found in India and Bangladesh where it is considered sacred in both places. In Hinduism, the leaf of the banyan tree is said to be the resting place for Krishna (a Hindu deity). It is no wonder this tree is the national tree of India. The banyan tree is also a sacred tree in many other cultures, symbolizing eternal life and the infinite expansion of the Universe.  Although many cultures revere this tree as sacred, its striking appearance and invasive nature makes this tree the focus of many ancient fantasies and myths.

The banyan tree is considered an invasive species in Florida. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to a specific location and has a tendency to spread, causing damage to native species, human economies, or human health. Because they have no natural enemies to limit their reproduction, they usually spread rampantly. Invasive species are recognized as one of the leading threats to biodiversity and impose enormous costs on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and other human enterprises.

Florida spends approximately $30 million taxpayer dollars annually on invasive plant management in natural areas and waterways. There are over 500 species of trees growing in Florida, only 200 of which are indigenous. Out of the 300 non-indigenous species, close to 80 are considered “invasive exotic” by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. According to the FLEPPC, invasive exotic plants alter ecosystems by displacing native species, changing community structures and ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives. The majority of invasive species are spread by human activity, most of the time unintentionally via unrelated shipping processes. Some ornamental and decorative plants can become invasive if they escape into the wild.

So how did the banyan tree make its way to Florida, a long way from south Asia? Many believe Thomas Edison was the culprit. During World War I, Thomas Edison became concerned with America's reliance on foreign sources of rubber. He partnered with Harvey Firestone and his good friend Henry Ford to find a rubber tree or plant that could grow quickly in the United States and provide a domestic supply of rubber. It’s believed that in 1925, the very first banyan tree made its way into the United States from India and was planted by Mr. Edison himself on his Fort Myers estate. In 1927 he joined with Ford and Firestone to establish the Edison Botanic Research Corporation at his winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. In 1928, the Edison Botanic Research Corporation laboratory was created. After testing over 17,000 plants, Edison discovered a source in the plant Goldenrod which synthesized to make rubber. Today, that same tree is one of the largest banyan trees in the continental U.S. The downside of this research was that many non-native plant species, such as the banyan tree, were introduced to Florida.

Aside from reportedly curing a variety of physical and mental ailments, the banyan tree also has practical uses for woodworkers, such as making door panels, tables, boxes and other items. Although the soft, spongy wood has no value in construction and cannot be burned as firewood, banyan wood may be used as paper pulp. 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. However, if the wood is carefully seasoned and only the hardest heartwood is used—as is the case with our live-edge slabs—it can be made into beautiful furniture.

At WoodSlabs.com, we are inspired by the history and colorful nature of the banyan tree. Just a few blocks away from the Sarasota Ringling Museum, where Thomas Edison gifted John Ringling 13 banyan tree specimens, Advantage Trim and Lumber crafts banyan wood slabs and offers them to customers as finished furniture slabs, plain sanded slabs for wall decorations, tables or headboards. While many cultures revere this tree for its sacred and therapeutic properties, woodworkers believe banyan wood makes awesome tables with an even more awesome backstory! Your banyan wood table will certainly be a topic of conversation for many years to come! Also, your purchase helps provide our skilled and grateful crew with jobs crafting beauty, while protecting the environment from these mystical invaders.

Botanical name: Ficus benghalensis

Common names: Chinese Banyan, Malayan Banyan, Taiwan Banyan, Indian Laurel, Curtain Fig, Gajumar, Cuban Laurel

Density: 580 kg/m³              36.208224760682 lb/ft3

Family: Moraceae

Color: Light in color, creamy white mixed with some light brown colors

Grain: Mahogony-like grain, cuts nicely

Workability: Surfaces well, cuts nicely

Stability: Very stable

Slab size: Up to 4’ wide and up to 8’ long

Uses: Tables, wall art slabs, benches, desk

Shape: Very unique, non-standard shapes, curves pieces, etc.

Related species: Ficus microcarpa, Ficus pertusa, Ficus citrifolia, Ficus aurea, Ficus macrophylla, Ficus indica

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