Photo from Edison & Ford Winter Estates
What first strikes you upon entering the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers is the sprawling, massive banyan tree at its entrance.
The tree’s aerial roots now have a circumference of more than 400 feet, making it the largest specimen in the U.S. (and the second-largest in the world).
The tree was a gift from industrialist Harvey Firestone to Thomas Edison in 1925, brought to the estate from India in a butter tub when it was just 2″ in diameter and four feet high!
The friends had hoped that the sap produced from the tree would help in making natural rubber. The banyan was not the answer, but it remained on the estate and grew to an acre in diameter. The tree is now one of more than 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from six continents that you can view at the estate gardens.
More fun facts: During World War 1, Edison became concerned with America’s reliance on foreign supplies of rubber. He partnered with both Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford to try to find a rubber tree or plant that could grow quickly in the United States and provide a domestic supply of rubber. In 1927, the three men contributed $25,000 each and the Edison Botanic Research Corporation laboratory was constructed. It was here that Edison would do the majority of his research and planting of his exotic plants and trees. After testing more than 17,000 plant samples, Edison eventually discovered a source in the plant goldenrod. Thomas Edison died in 1931 and the rubber project was transferred to the United States Department of Agriculture five years later.