Chinese banyan, Malayan banyan, Indian laurel, curtain fig (Eng); laurel de Indias (Spa); figueira-de-goa (Por).
DID YOU KNOW...? The first Chinese banyan trees planted in the Canary Islands came back with the Spanish immigrants to America when they returned from Cuba.
A large, solid tree that can be more than 25 m tall. It branches fairly close to the ground, generating a very wide, leafy crown of perennial foliage that provides shade. The trunk can reach 1 m in diameter and the bark is generally smooth and greyish. It tends to be broader at the base and often the lower branches have numerous aerial roots that hang down to the ground. The slightly leathery leaves are simple, alternate, more or less oval-elliptical, 4-10 cm long and 2-4 cm wide, with an entire margin. When cut they exude latex. They are hairless, shiny dark green in colour, and reminiscent of the popular ‛weeping fig' or 'benjamin fig' (Ficus benjamina), although those of the Chinese banyan do not terminate in a long curved tip. This species has peculiar flowers that tend to be hidden and surrounded by the fruit (syconium). The fruits are small figs and are more easily recognisable when opened. They are less than 1 cm in diameter, fleshy, yellowish green at first, becoming purple when ripe. They normally grow in pairs directly on the branches and have no leaf stalk. This tree bears fruit almost all year, except in autumn, which is why the ground around it is usually covered with these figs.
Undemanding, fast-growing tree. It prefers subtropical or temperate climates, as it does not do well in cold weather. It grows best in full sun and on almost any soil type, as its extensive, powerful root system allows the Chinese banyan to access hidden groundwater sources. The wood is brittle and easily broken by the wind. This is why during tropical storm Delta, which affected the Canaries, many sturdy branches were broken off and entire trees were even ripped up by the strong gusts. On the other hand, it withstands proximity to the sea so well that in the Canary Islands it can be seen from sea level up to altitudes of 800 m.
It grows naturally in India, the south of China, Southeast Asia, Australia, Oceania, and on most of the islands in the Indian Ocean. In the Canary Islands, the Chinese banyan has been widely cultivated as an ornamental or to provide shade in parks and town squares. According to Biodiversity Data Bank of the Canary Islands (2014), this species has been found established in the wild in La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife and Gran Canaria.