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LIVING ROOT BRIDGES

A living root bridge is a type of simple suspension bridge formed of living plant roots by tree shaping. They are common in the southern part of the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. They are handmade from the aerial roots of rubber fig trees by the Khasi and Jaintia peoples of the mountainous terrain along the southern part of the Shillong Plateau.


During monsoon season in India, which lasts from June to September, rivers in Meghalaya flood, leaving local communities stranded that's why the bridges are essential for rural connectivity in a vertical landscape and are important ecosystems, constantly interacting with their living and nonliving surroundings.


The raw materials for building these bridges are rubber fig trees (Ficus elastica). That's because they are very elastic, and they put out aerial roots. First, an ideal location on the river is identified for the bridge, and then people go into the forest and find healthy F. elastica saplings to replant on either side of the river.


After a wait of 10 to 15 years, the trees are old enough to put out aerial roots, which the bridge builders then coax across the river with the help of bamboo scaffolding. This scaffolding doubles as a temporary way for pedestrians to cross the river while the bridge is under construction. Over the years, the aerial roots are pulled and woven to meet the tree on the other side of the river. The roots are tied with one another and eventually they merge by a process of fusion known as anastomosis.


Once the tree has reached a certain level of maturity, it adds more roots to the network, which the local people weave into the bridge. After the entire network of roots has sufficiently matured, the bridge reaches a critical strength capable of supporting pedestrians.


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Photo Credit, Prasenjeet YADAV, a molecular biologist-turned-photographer, who focuses on natural history and science stories in Asia. He combines his experience in research with his photography skills to popularize ecological and conservation sciences in the wider society. He is currently working on a story for National Geographic Magazineon the Indian Himalayas.

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