Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

The Invasive Chinese Banyan Tree

Ficus microcarpa
Kowloon Park, Hong Kong, China

Growing up in Asia, banyan trees have been part of my life.  When I was a child I would often climb them.  Banyan trees have much historical value in Hong Kong, with many of them being over 100 years old, and several more than 500 years old.

Tropical trees are so interesting, and particularly the banyan with its incredible network of roots and fibres.  For quite some time I had been considering drawing this tree in graphite, so this exhibition entitled “Out of the Woods” was the perfect opportunity.  I chose the most outstanding of the Chinese banyan trees, Ficus microcarpa. It is a very invasive species and its roots can be seen clinging around rocks, penetrating granite walls and concrete. It continually looks after itself and once the seeds have been set, it is difficult to remove the young plant from its habitat. The trees can be seen along roadsides and in villages as well as parks, creating shade for other plants. I visited several botanical gardens and photographed many banyans before choosing the ones I thought were the most attractive and interesting to draw.

The work was a complete challenge to me as I had never done a painting wholly in graphite before.  Previous to this, I used watercolor and occasionally colored pencil.  I showed in detail its habit of producing many aerial roots from the branches, which eventually reach and penetrate the ground as supporting trunks. I worked in graphite on Arches hot pressed paper, concentrating on the intricate roots, showing how they begin as fibres and become very large thick supports. This involved many hours of work, layering and burnishing to perfect the tonal values required.  I hope that people viewing my artwork who aren’t familiar with banyan trees will notice their amazing tangle of roots and will appreciate the detail and how much time was involved in creating this.

  • © 2016 Mark Isaac-Williamsn
    The Invasive Chinese Banyan Tree
    Ficus microcarpa
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
    16.5" x 11-3/4"