living bridges

These living root bridges can be found in Nongriat village in Meghalaya, India. ATTRIBUTION: Wikimedia Commons – Arshiya Urveeja Bose

In the wet, remote forests of northeastern India are some of the most spectacular living bridges in the world. Many living root bridges are centuries old, formed from the tangled roots of native trees. These woven trees are not only a work of beauty, but also provide villagers in India’s Meghalaya region a solution for crossing the state’s swollen rivers. Here we’ll look at how these marvelous living root bridges came to be, what trees were used, and how you can replicate this design in your own yard.

How Living Bridges are Made

Living root bridges are constructed of tree vines and roots stretched horizontally across streams and rivers, creating an interwoven structure that can reach over one hundred feet long and support the weight of up to fifty people. To make the roots grow in the right direction, tree trunks are sliced down the center and hollowed out. The roots are then guided by the tree trunks and once they reach the other side of the river, they take root in the soil.

It takes an average of ten to fifteen years for a living root bridge to become fully functional. Living bridges have an average lifespan of up to 500 years and generally get stronger over time. One of the most famous examples of a living root bridge is the Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge in Meghalaya. This root bridge consists of two bridges grown on top of one another, and is believed to be the only one of its kind.

Types of Trees Used in Living Bridges

Most living root bridges are hand formed from the living roots of banyan fig trees. The Ficus elastica, more commonly referred to as the Rubber fig, is most commonly used in India to create living bridges. This type of tree grows a series of secondary roots higher up on its trunk, allowing it to rest comfortably on boulders, riverbanks or even over water.

Betal nut tree trunks are typically the type of tree placed across streams and rivers in which to guide the roots of the Rubber fig. Branches, sticks, stones, and various other objects found in nature may also be added to the bridge to help stabilize its growing components.

Ideas for Creating Your Own

As authentic living root bridges take many years to create, it’s highly difficult to replicate this design in your backyard. You can create a similar look using a homemade or prebuilt wood garden bridge. To make the bridge blend in better with its surroundings, grow vines and other climbing plants, such as honeysuckle arch, clematis archway, trumpet vine, morning glory, golden hops, or climbing hydrangea.

Grow climbing vines and plants on either side of the bridge, and watch as they wrap up and around the bridge. Of course, you may need to prune the plants on occasion to prevent them from overtaking the bridge. To keep your climbing plants healthy, remember to remove any dead, diseased or damaged stems, as well as overly tangled stems. Like with real living root bridges, you can also direct the growth of your plants.