Plant names can be very confusing. There are botanical or scientific names which are always in Latin, and then there are common names which can vary by region or generations. Botanical names are important to know since many plants can share a common name.
Let’s take the Banyan tree for example. Most folks in Naples are familiar with the Banyan tree but is it a true Banyan? The original Banyan tree is Ficus benghalensis and native to India. The name Banyan refers to banyans or traders that were commonly found selling their merchandise under a Ficus benghalensis in India. Typical leaves on a Banyan are glossy green, large, and elliptical in shape.
According to Ficus, the exotic species by Ira Condit, the term Banyan is also used to refer to any Fig that begins its life as an epiphyte – meaning growing on another plant. You might be familiar with Strangler Fig – this is the same. Today, most figs with multiple large trunks are referred to as Banyan trees. The multiple trunks are actually aerial roots that are produced and seek their way to the ground to act as props or pillars for the tree to spread out. These can vary by species and location. Some Banyan trees will have numerous aerial roots, while others have very few. The reason for the variation could be due to available moisture in the air – high moisture, many roots, low moisture, fewer aerial roots.
At Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, we have numerous species of Ficus trees. They include F. altissima or Lofty Fig, F. lutea or West African Rubber Tree, F. macrophylla or Moreton Bay Fig, F. microcarpa or Indian Laurel, F. religiosa or Bo Tree, F. sycomorus or Pharoah’s Fig, and F. benjamina or Weeping Fig…and a few others! Telling all of these species can be tricky but it shows the tremendous diversity amongst just this one group of plants.