Ficus religiosa or sacred fig is a species of fig native to the Indian subcontinent and Indochina that belongs to Moraceae, the fig or mulberry family. It is also known as the bodhi tree, pippala tree, peepul tree, peepal tree, pipal tree, or ashvattha tree (in India and Nepal). The sacred fig is considered to have a religious significance in three major religions that originated on the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Hindu and Jain ascetics consider the species to be sacred and often meditate under it. This is the tree under which Gautama Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. The sacred fig is the state tree of the Indian states of Odisha and Haryana. Ficus religiosa is a large dry season-deciduous or semi-evergreen tree up to 30 metres (98 ft) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 3 metres (9.8 ft). The leaves are cordate in shape with a distinctive extended drip tip; they are 10–17 centimetres (3.9–6.7 in) long and 8–12 centimetres (3.1–4.7 in) broad, with a 6–10 centimetres (2.4–3.9 in) petiole. The fruits are small figs 1–1.5 centimetres (0.39–0.59 in) in diameter, green ripening to purple.
F. religiosa has a very long lifespan, ranging on average between 900 and 1,500 years. In some of its native habitats, it has been reportedly found living for over 3,000 years. Some trees have been reported to be more than 2,000 years old, like the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a peepal tree in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka which is estimated to be more than 2,250 years old and is regarded as the "Oldest historical tree in the world with religious importance".
Ficus religiosa is native to most of the Indian subcontinent – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and India including the Assam region, Eastern Himalaya and the Nicobar Islands, as well as part of Indochina – the Andaman Islands, Thailand, Myanmar and Peninsular Malaysia. It has been widely introduced elsewhere, particularly in the rest of tropical Asia, but also in Iran, Florida and Venezuela.
Flooded Ficus religiosa trunk in the muddy water of the Mekong, in Laos.
Ficus religiosa suitably grows at altitudes ranging from 10 metres (33 ft) up to 1,520 metres (4,990 ft). Due to the climatic conditions which are prevalent throughout different heat zones, it can grow at latitudes ranging from 30°N to 5°S. It can tolerate air temperatures ranging between 0 °C (32 °F) to 35 °C (95 °F), beyond this upper limit its growth diminishes. It grows on a wide variety of soils but preferably needs deep, alluvial sandy loam with good drainage. It is also found on shallow soils including rock crevices.
Ficus religiosa is associated with Blastophaga quadriceps, an agaonid wasp which acts as its pollinator as this wasp lays its eggs only on trees of this species.
Ficus religiosa is tolerant to various climate zones (Köppen climate classification categories of Af, Am, Aw/As, Cfa, Cwa and Csa) and various types of soils. In Paraguay the tree species occurs in forests at lower elevations, and in China the species has been reported growing at altitudes ranging from 400 metres (1,300 ft) to 700 metres (2,300 ft). In India, being a native species, it occurs both naturally in wild as well as cultivated up to altitudes of 1,520 metres (4,990 ft).
Ficus religiosa is tolerant to widely varying climatic conditions such as Tropical rainforest climate where the region receives more than 60 millimetres (6.0 cm) of precipitation per month, Tropical monsoon climate where average precipitation ranges from 60 millimetres (6.0 cm) in the driest month to 100 millimetres (10 cm), Tropical savanna climate with dry summer where average precipitation ranges from 60 millimetres (6.0 cm) per month in summers to 100 millimetres (10 cm) per month in winters, Warm temperate climate, wet all year where average temperature ranges from 0 °C (32 °F) to 10 °C (50 °F) and it is wet all year, as well as Warm temperate climate with dry summer where average temperature ranges from 0 °C (32 °F) to 10 °C (50 °F) and summers are dry.
A young tree growing on a concrete wall in Delhi. It is tolerant to wide variety of soils, and hence it even thrives on concrete walls having little moisture.
On a side walk
Unlike most epiphytic jungle figs, which ring the stems of dicotyledonous support trees from the outside, the epiphytic bushes of F. religiosa are not true stranglers. Their roots penetrate inside the stem of the support, eventually splitting it from within. Ficus religiosa has been listed as an "environmental weed" or "naturalised weed" by the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012). It has been assigned an invasiveness high risk score of 7 in a risk assessment prepared for the species' invasiveness in Hawaii by PIER. Such a high score predicts it will become a major pest in suitable climate zones. The major reasons for its invasive behaviour are its fast-growing nature, tolerance to various climate zones and soil types, reported lifespan of over 3,000 years, and its suffocating growth habit as it often begins life as an epiphyte.
The Ficus religiosa tree is considered sacred by the followers of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, "I am the Peepal tree among the trees, Narada among the deva rishi(Divine sages), Bhrigu among the sapthamaharishi, Chitraaratha among the Gandharvas, And sage Kapila among the Siddhas.
Main article: Bodhi tree
Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) while meditating underneath a Ficus religiosa. The site is in present-day Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The original tree was destroyed, and has been replaced several times. A branch of the original tree was rooted in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka in 288 BCE and is known as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi; it is the oldest living human-planted flowering plant (angiosperm) in the world.
The Bodhi Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple was propagated from the Sri Maha Bodhi, which in turn was propagated from the original Bodhi Tree at this location.
In Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia, the tree's massive trunk is often the site of Buddhist or animist shrines. Not all Ficus religiosa can be called a Bodhi Tree. A Bodhi Tree must be able to trace its parent to another Bodhi Tree and the line goes on until the first Bodhi Tree under which Gautama is said to have gained enlightenment.
Sadhus (Hindu ascetics) still meditate beneath sacred fig trees, and Hindus do pradakshina (circumambulation, or meditative pacing) around the sacred fig tree as a mark of worship. Usually seven pradakshinas are done around the tree in the morning time chanting "vriksha rajaya namah", meaning "salutation to the king of trees". It is claimed that the 27 stars (constellations) constituting 12 houses (rasis) and 9 planets are specifically represented precisely by 27 trees—one for each star. The Bodhi Tree is said to represent Pushya (Western star name γ, δ and θ Cancri in the Cancer constellation).
Plaksa is a possible Sanskrit term for Ficus religiosa. However, according to Macdonell and Keith (1912), it denotes the wavy-leaved fig tree (Ficus infectoria) instead. In Hindu texts, the Plaksa tree is associated with the source of the Sarasvati River. The Skanda Purana states that the Sarasvati originates from the water pot of Brahma flows from Plaksa on the Himalayas. According to Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati was rising from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree). Plaksa Pra-sravana denotes the place where the Sarasvati appears. In the Rigveda Sutras, Plaksa Pra-sravana refers to the source of the Sarasvati.
Typical example of aerial roots
Ficus religiosa is grown by specialty tree plant nurseries for use as an ornamental tree, in gardens and parks in tropical and subtropical climates. Peepul trees are native to Indian subcontinent and thrive in hot, humid weather. They prefer full sunlight and can grow in all soil types, though loam is the best. When planting, use soil with a pH of 7 or below. While it is possible for the plant to grow indoors in a pot, it grows best outside. Young peepul needs proper nourishment. It requires full sunlight and proper watering. Sacred fig occurs naturally in submontane forest regions. As with many Ficus trees, these are well suited for Bonsai training.
In the Middle East, it is preferably planted as an avenue or road verge tree. In the Philippines and in Nicaragua the species is cultivated in parks and along roadsides and pavements, while in Paraguay it occurs in forests at lower elevations.
In Thailand โพ or "Pho" trees grow everywhere, but in the Wats (temples) they are revered, and usually are several hundred years old, with trunks up to 20 feet / 6 meters wide. As with all sacred trees in Thailand, they have a saffron cloth wrapped around the base. A yearly ritual involving the Bo Trees at wats is the purchasing of "mai kam sii" ไม้คำ้ศริ, which are "supports" that look like crutches and are placed under the spreading branches as if holding them up. The purchase money helps fund the wat, a central part of Thai life.
Ficus religiosa is used in traditional medicine for about fifty types of disorders including asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, gastric problems, inflammatory disorders, infectious and sexual disorders. Farmers in North India also cultivate it for its fig fruit. The trunk of this tree is used by farmers as a soil leveller. After seed harvesting, the rectangular trunk is connected to tractors and levels the soil.