This is the first entry of a new series on Sakon Nakhon trees, including their uses, history, and relationship to Thai culture and religion (when applicable). We’ll begin with the Banyan Tree (Ficus), which is nicknamed the Saint of the Forest, because when its fruit drop to the ground, a wide assortment of birds and other animals gather around to the eat the fruit. Small animals will also sometimes live in the fissure cavities within the trunk.
Ironically, the Banyan tree also goes by the nickname the Killer of the Jungle, because it starts out by leaning against an older tree, slowly strangling and replacing it. In Buddhism, this is viewed as a metaphor for how people can be strangled and overcome by their sensual desires. In Hinduism, the Banyan is said to be the resting place of the God Krishna. You will sometimes see it growing at Sakon Nakhon temples.
The Banyan Tree is a fig tree, but it’s fruit is barely edible, except by the animals of the forest. Its leathery leaves are sometimes used for wrapping cooked food, although Banana leaves (which are much larger) are the most common tree leaf wrap. The wood of the Banyan tree is soft and spongy, and thus not suitable for building or firewood. However, the above ground roots are a bit stronger and sometimes used to make poles.