Saving A Tree, One Drip At A Time.

IV treatment helps Pillalamarri live another day. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

IV treatment helps Pillalamarri live another day. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

An amazing story, this.

If the roughly 800-year-old banyan tree in Mahabubnagar, India, could talk, it would probably tell you the IV inserted in its branches is saving its life. Termites infested the tree, reportedly one of the oldest in India, and gradually chipped away at its wood until the poor banyan was near the brink of death. Last December, some of the tree’s branches fell down because of the infestation, resulting in officials closing the attraction to the public.

Known as Pillalamarri because of its many interweaving branches, the banyan tree measures 405 feet from east to west and 408 feet from north to south, according to Mahabubnagar District Forest Officer Chukka Ganga Reddy. The crown of Pillalamarri extends to 1,263 feet and the tree is spread across nearly four acres. Underneath the tree stands a small shrine that supposedly dates back to the year 1200, but the tree’s exact age is unclear. Nevertheless, calling the Ficus benghalensis a great banyan tree would be an understatement.

Pillalamarri’s branches bend close to the soil. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

Pillalamarri’s branches bend close to the soil. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

Such greatness attracts 12,000 tourists per year from every corner of the country to awe at its sheer vastness, but this tourism has also caused some troubles for the tree. According to Telangana Today, when Pillalamarri turned into a tourist attraction nearly a decade ago, the state government cut down branches and built concrete sitting areas around the tree for tourists. Tourists picked at the leaves, climbed on the branches, and carved names into the bark. Furthermore, to keep the area clean, the grounds team burned fallen leaves, which was bad for the soil. A recently installed dam on a neighboring stream restricted water flow to the tree.

I will never understand the pointless destructiveness humans indulge in. A 700 year old living being should, at the very least, garner some respect.

…Officials initially injected the trunk with the pesticide chlorpyrifos, but saw no improvement. So they tried another method to prevent decay: hundreds of saline bottles filled with chlorpyrifos, inserted into Pillalamarri’s branches.

“This process has been effective,” Reddy told the Times of India. “Secondly, we are watering the roots with the diluted solution to kill the termites. And in a physical method, we are building concrete structures to support the collapsing heavy branches.”

…Despite the tree’s stable prospects, the public won’t be seeing Pillalamarri any time soon. When they do visit in the future, “this time people have to see it from a distance away from the barricades,” said Reddy. For now, drip-by-drip, the banyan tree’s health is returning to its former glory.

What a shame that all those who would show proper respect won’t be able to do so anymore. I’m impressed and happy that a way to treat Pillalamarri has been found, and profoundly sad and disappointed by the people who were so damn destructive. It doesn’t speak well of humans at all.

Atlas Obscura has the full story, and lots of links.


  1. says

    Termites are incredibly difficult to deal with and any structural damage done to the tree cannot be undone- the wood that was eaten by the termites remains eaten. The only thing to do now, if the insecticides manage to deal with the termites, is some structural suport for the damaged boughs -- like the mentioned concrete suports etc.

    Nearly all extremely long trees need such treatment, tourists notwithstanding. At certain point the trees simply start to fall apart and it is inevitable.

    I would love to see that tree in person and touch its bark with my bare hands.

  2. says


    Yes, someday the time will come, but it’s good to know the 800 year old has gotten a new lease on life. It doesn’t excuse the tourists being such assholes. It shames me that people could treat this tree in that manner. It’s that exact lack of care and thoughtlessness which has landed us in our current troubles regarding environment.

    I would love to see that tree in person and touch its bark with my bare hands.

    So would I. Unfortunately, no one will ever be able to do that now. And that’s another cost, a terrible one. Their behaviour is a demonstration of a complete lack of respect for life. There’s zero sense of connection, where people have become so separated from the world they inhabit it’s a deep sickness, and that sickness affects all life on this planet.

  3. voyager says

    I’m glad that there are enough people who care about this tree to go to such extremes to heal it. And yay science! I do despair that it was necessary though. I’ve never understood the desire to carve initials into trees or to jump up and break off branches. It seems so violent to me. I do understand the desire to touch, though. I’m a very tactile person and I do touch a few trees now and then, but if too many touch it’s better we should all lose the privilege.

  4. says

    Oh, I don’t think touching the tree did any harm, and I often touch trees. That’s a far cry from stripping leaves, climbing, and carving. I will admit that upon seeing such a tree, I would have a great desire to climb it, but I wouldn’t because of its age.

  5. Nightjar says

    What a majestic tree, must be breathtaking to be in its presence. I’m glad something is being done to preserve it, but yeah, those tourists. Stripping leaves and carving such an old tree is unforgivable. Some people just can’t seem to be able to interact with nature without doing some damage along the way. I don’t get it.

  6. says

    Hypotheticaly speaking if too many people touched the tree on one spot they could wear down the bark down to the phloem and that would be damaging. However I have never seen a tree damaged thusly. What I unfortunately do see all to often are living trees that have been carved into.

    And historical monuments too.

    I never understood the mentality behind such vandalism and never will.

    I remember one museum in USA that had an excellent idea for tactile persons -- besides the huge taxidermic buffallo with “do not touch sighn” there was a small plate with buffalo fur to touch.

  7. StevoR says

    I love this story -- one amazing old tree and remarkable way to save it.

    I’d expect the species being a banyan to have aerial roots which turn into trunks after hitting the ground. (Vaguely recall reading an old story that Alexander the Great camped his army in a forest that turned out to be just one huge banyan tree.) If so, maybe some of the aerial roots will form new trunks and give it renewed vigour. OTOH, the photos here don’t seem to show that so I could be mistaken.

    And yeah, the behaviour of the people here shows a lot of appalling disrespect and far too little consideration for such a magnificent ancient living wonder.

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