The tree that shaped human hisory

Source: BBC

By Mike Shanahan

Over 2,000 years ago, an important tree had one of its branches removed on the order of Indian emperor Ashoka the Great. It was under this very tree that the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. Ashoka bestowed kingship on the branch, and planted it in a thick-rimmed solid gold vase.

He then took the branch over mountains and down the Ganges River to the Bay of Bengal. There, his daughter carried it aboard a ship and sailed for Sri Lanka to present it to the king. Ashoka loved the plant so much that he shed tears as he watched it leave.

This story, from the epic poem The Mahavamsa, is about a kind of fig tree scientists call Ficus religiosa. True to its name, an unbroken line of devotion towards it stretches back to thousands of years before Ashoka’s time.

But F. religiosa is not alone. It is just one of more than 750 fig species. No other plants have held such sway over human imagination. They feature in every major religion and have influenced kings and queens, scientists and soldiers. They played roles in human evolution and the dawn of civilisation. These trees have not only witnessed history; they have shaped it. If we play it right, they could even enrich our future.

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