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FIGURE 2

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Originally appearing in Volume V10, Page 334 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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FIGURE 2.-India-rubber Tree, Ficus elastica, showing spreading woody roots. in it, to induce earlier ripening. The ancients, after soaking it in water, preserved it like the common fig. The porous wood is only fit for fuel. The sacred fig, peepul, or bo, Ficus religiosa, a large tree with heart-shaped, long-pointed leaves on slender footstalks, is much grown in southern Asia. The leaves are used for tanning, and afford lac, and a gum resembling caoutchouc is obtained from the juice; but in India it is chiefly planted with a religious object, being regarded as sacred by both Brahmans and Buddhists. The former believe that the last avatar of Vishnu took place beneath its shade. A gigantic bo, described by Sir J. Emerson Tennent as growing near Anarajapoora, in Ceylon, is, if tradition may be trusted, one of the oldest trees in the world. It is said to have been a branch of the tree under which Gautama Buddha became endued with his divine powers, and has always been held in the greatest veneration. The figs, however, hold as important a place in the religious fables of the East as the ash in the myths of Scandinavia. Ficus elastica, the India-rubber tree (figure 2), the large, oblong, glossy leaves, and pink buds of which are so familiar in our greenhouses, furnishes most of the caoutchouc obtained from the East Indies. It grows to a large size, and is remarkable 334 for the snake-like roots that extend in contorted masses around the base of the trunk. The small fruit is unfit for food. Ficus bengalensis, or the Banyan, wild in parts of northern India, but generally planted throughout the country, has a woody stem, branching to a height of 70 to 100 ft. and of vast extent with heart-shaped entire leaves terminating in acute points. Every branch from the main body throws out its own roots, at first in small tender fibres, several yards from the ground; but these continually grow thicker until they reach the surface, when they strike in, increase to large trunks, and become parent trees, shooting out new branches from the top, which again in time suspend their roots, and these, swelling into trunks, produce other branches, the growth continuing as long as the earth contributes her sustenance. On the banks of the Nerbudda stood a celebrated tree of this kind, which is supposed to be that described by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander the Great. This tree once covered an area so immense, that it was known to shelter no fewer than 7000 men, and though much reduced in size by the destructive power of the floods, the remainder was described by James Forbes (1749-1819), in his Oriental Memoirs (1813–1815) as nearly 2000 ft. in circumference, while the trunks large and small exceeded 3000 in number. The tree usually grows from seeds dropped by birds on other trees. The leaf-axil of a palm forms a frequent receptacle for their growth, the palm becoming ultimately strangled by the growth of the fig, which by this time has developed numerous daughter stems which continue to expand and cover ultimately a large area. The famous tree in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Calcutta, began its growth at the end of the 18th century on a sacred date-palm. In 1907 it had nearly 250 aerial roots, the parent trunk was 42 ft. in girth, and its leafy crown had a circumference of 857 ft.; and it was still growing vigorously. Both this tree and F. religiosa cause destruction to buildings, especially in Bengal, from seeds dropped by birds germinating on the walls. The tree yields an inferior rubber, and a coarse rope is prepared from the bark and from the aerial roots.
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