Barh or Banyan (Ficus bengalensis), a remarkable tree of India and tropical Africa sends down from its branches great numbers of shoots, which take root and become new trunks. A single tree thus may spread over a large area and look like a small forest. This tree, belonging to the family Moraceae, is considered to be sacred in some places in India.
A specimen in the Calcutta botanical garden is more than 100 years old. It has a main trunk 13 feet (4 m) in diameter, 230 trunks as large as oak trees, and more than 3,000 smaller ones. The largest banyan tree known is on the island of Sri Lanka. It has 350 large trunks and over 3,000 small ones. The banyan often grows to a height of over 21 meters and lives through many ages.
Barh tree has large leaves and small blossoms followed by cherry like scarlet fruit which furnishes food for birds and monkeys. A fruit, much like the edible fig, grows on the banyan tree, but it is not good to eat. The wood of the banyan tree is soft and porous. Its white, sticky latex is used to prepare birdlime, which hunters use in capturing birds.
Barh tree grows in a peculiar way. Birds drop its seeds into the top branches of other trees. The seeds sprout in the treetops and the Barh tree begins life as an epiphyte on the host tree, gathering its nourishment and water from the air and branches develop. Eventually, the lateral branches send roots down to the ground. These supports then enlarge into trunks and develop new branches. In time, the Barh kills the host tree by strangling it.
The mature Barh's canopy may cover an area more than 1,000 feet in diameter. The stems below the canopy form a kind of columned room. Its original trunk may decay, leaving the younger ones to support the tree.