Sacred Bodhi tree’s journey to Oz 2300 years in the making

25 August 2021

In a cultural first for Australia, a sapling from a sacred tree revered by the world’s Buddhist community has been imported from Sri Lanka in what can only be described as a great biosecurity success story.

Head of Biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Andrew Tongue, said the sapling is from the famous Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), under whose shade Buddha achieved enlightenment.

“The specimen is a direct descendent of the original Bodhi tree in India, off which a branch was taken to Sri Lanka in 288BC,” Mr Tongue said.

“As imported plants can carry a range of biosecurity risks, this sapling had to comply with our strict import conditions and will spend 12 months at our post entry quarantine (PEQ) facility.

“These conditions help ensure the sapling is free of potentially dangerous plant diseases, including the deadly Xylella fastidiosa, which is Australia’s number one plant pest threat.

“It’s being checked weekly by our plant pathologists and undergo testing during its 12-month quarantine period before being released in May 2022.

“Once cleared by the department’s Melbourne-based PEQ experts as being pest and disease free, the sapling is destined for Bendigo in Victoria.

“There it will be planted in a Buddhist temple known as Bodhi Dhamma Vihara, on a block of land owned by the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion associated with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”

Despite receiving a blessing during a spectacular farewell in Sri Lanka, it has not been all smooth sailing for the little tree. PEQ staff picked up the sapling from the airport’s clearing agent when the consignment arrived in May. It was a bare-rooted plant in a fairly stressed condition.

Wrapped in paper, in a polystyrene box, it had a rough journey here, sustaining a snapped stem and some insect damage. Plant pathologists examined it and checked for obvious illness and nematodes.

“The importer did all the right things, including washing the plant before packing it, but PEQ staff found insects on it. They had to remove most of its foliage to lessen the pest risk,” Mr Tongue said.

“It looked a bit like a stick after treatment. Bodhi trees are used to hot and humid conditions, and to help it grow it was put it in a special hot house where temperatures can range from 25 to 35 degrees.

“Because Melbourne’s days during winter are so cold and short, the staff also provided the plant with extra light. Clearly the small sapling must have felt at home with warmth and extra light because new leaves grew within the first week of quarantine.  It is now very healthy and stands almost one metre tall.

“The Aussie Bodhi is a great story of importers doing the right thing.

“It shows that when you follow our conditions, which are in place to protect our environment and industries, we will do everything in our power to ensure your precious cargo is looked after.

“I wish this little Aussie Bodhi tree well and hope it goes from strength to strength at Bendigo.”

You can find images of the Bodhi tree and its biosecurity journey here https://f.io/lz-9D46V

Department spokespeople are available for interview. To arrange this please contact the department’s Ag media team on media@agriculture.gov.au

Fascinating fast facts on the Bodhi tree

  • It’s the oldest tree known to have been planted by a human rather than by natural seeding some 2300 years ago.
  • Buddha attained enlightenment under this tree, and it symbolizes wisdom, compassion and awareness in the Buddhist faith.
  • This transaction is the oldest-known record of official import and export of the plant between two countries.
  • Accompanied by a retinue of 10 other Buddhist nuns, Sanghamitta brought this tree from India to Sri Lanka. This is the oldest example of women empowerment. Sanghamitta considered the first woman, environmental ambassador and a spiritual leader.