Buddhists are forbidden to harm or chop down the ficus religiosa--it is thought that Buddha received his enlightenment under the boughs of this tree. Commonly known as the sacred fig, the ficus religiosa is a large shade tree is not tolerant of winter frost but perfect for tropical landscapes. Like other figs, this species produces small fruits, but they are not generally eaten by people.
A fast-growing tropical tree, ficus religiosa becomes a tall specimen reaching heights of 30 to 40 feet. It has wide-spreading branches that created a rounded or irregularly shaped canopy that is between 35 to 50 feet wide. Unlike other large tropical fig trees, this species does not drop aerial roots from branches to the ground. It does, however, occasionally form low buttresses from the lower trunk.
Usually evergreen, in cool or exceptionally dry winters this tree is deciduous. The leaves are leathery dark green and glossy. They are arranged alternately on the branches, spiraling in their attachment along the length of twigs. The leaves emerge first pinkish in color, unfurling fully to their mature shape of a broad oval with distinctive long, tapering tip that looks like a tail. To Americans, the foliage of the sacred fig looks much like that of a cottonwood or poplar.
The small flowers of the sacred fig appear in very early spring in the tropics, such as February in its native India. The greenish, petal-lacking blooms are either male or female in gender, as determined by the presence of either male stamens or female pistils. A specific species of wasp (Blastophaga quadraticeps) pollinates the flowers. Flowering may recur across the warm months of a tropical growing season.
After pollination, the female flowers swell and become small, rounded fruits with a flattened top. They are greenish yellow and ripen to purple with red dots. Often they occur in pairs on the tips of branches. Many creatures eat the fruits and disperse the seeds, including many birds, bats, pigs, rodents, parrots and monkeys.