A Banyan tree said to 700 years old was put on a special intravenous drip to ward off a termite infestation, after Indian officials feared the insects could kill the ancient tourist attraction.
The Forestry Department in the southern state of Telangana began the “saline treatment” to the tree, in the Mahbubnagar district, said to be the second oldest Banyan in the world.
It is known as “Pillalamarri” (the children’s Banyan tree) in the local Telugu language, and drew crowds who marvelled at its sprawl over three acres, until last December, when it was cordoned off after experts warned it was crumbling.
Chukka Gangi Reddy, of the Forestry Department, said: “There were two major reasons for the crumbling. First, right from the trunk to branches to prop roots, it was heavily infested with termites. Secondly, the branches got bent downwards with tourists using them as swings.”
Scientists came up with the idea of injecting diluted insecticide into the tree like an IV drip in order to protect its weaker branches.
“We hung hundreds of saline bottles filled with insecticide every two metres . It is working very well,” Mr Reddy said.
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Dendrologists – experts in the study of trees – from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, in Hyderabad, suggested that the whole area covered by the Banyan be treated with insecticide, as the problem could have originated from the roots.
“In any case, it will take another two or three months to eliminate the termites,” Reddy said.
The Indian Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) is common across the subcontinent, and both India and Sri Lanka lay claims to having the world’s oldest on their soil – but dating is extremely difficult and often the trees are actually said to be descended from older trees.
The Great Banyan Tree in the Botanical gardens of Kolkata is often claimed to be the oldest, but the original trunk was cut down after two huge cyclones in the 19th century made it unsteady.
Pilgrims flock to a Fig tree (Ficus religiosa), a close cousin of the Banyan, in the state of Bihar – known as the Bodhi Tree – as it is said to be descended from the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment in around 290 BC.