Flourishing within one of India’s driest regions is Thimmamma Marrimanu, the world’s largest single tree canopy. The banyan tree was first added to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1989 (its entry updated in 2017) as being 550 years old and having the “greatest perimeter length for a tree”, spreading over five acres with a circumference of 846m.
The banyan (Ficus benghalensis), also called Indian banyan or banyan fig, is part of the mulberry family and is native to the Indian subcontinent. Stretching outward in every direction, it looks more like a grove or a forest than a single tree. Considered a “strangler” tree, it begins life as an epiphyte, a plant that grows on the surface of another plant, first by planting seeds in the branches of other trees and then by sprouting vine-like roots that block the host tree of sunlight as they wind down and eventually anchor themselves into the forest floor. These roots then spread underground, depriving all other nearby plants of water and nutrients, using these resources to then thicken into big pillars that look like tree trunks. The banyan will keep growing and expanding as far as its surroundings permit.
Thimmamma Marrimanu has more than 4,000 roots making up its canopy. It has been damaged by cyclones and droughts over the centuries, with large clumps of well-established roots having fallen sideways or broken off completely. But nevertheless, the tree is still expanding. The small collection of dusty mountains in which it is nestled provides a small, bowl-like clearing that allows for good drainage and sunlight with plenty of room for the tree to grow.
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