Banyan - production & trade

Banyan trees are managed for lac insects, which produce shellac used in a variety of crafts.

Lac production

A black and white photograph of branches encrusted with lac being harvested.
Branches of trees encrusted with lac are harvested and used in lac production.

Shellac and lac dye are both derived from the resinous secretion called lac that various insect species produce. The most commercially important insect species is Laccifer lacca. These insects live on various host trees including banyan and the tree twigs become covered in lac. The lac encrusted twigs are harvested. Generally the trees are managed for lac production. Host trees are first pruned and then 4-6 months later inoculated with the insect. The twigs are ready for harvesting after another 6 months. These twigs smeared with the lac are called 'sticklac'.

Seedlac is made by crushing and sieving the sticks. The crushed twigs are washed to remove impurities and the lac dye. The remaining seedlac is then spread to air dry. Handmade shellac is produced by packing seedlac into a long cloth bag. One end of the bag is heated over a charcoal fire. The other end is twisted to force the lac out through the cloth. This lac is then spread out carefully to dry forming sheets of shellac. This job requires a great deal of skill.