A Symbol of Strength: Maui's Banyan Tree 50% Alive Following Lahaina Fire

A Symbol of Strength: Maui’s Banyan Tree 50% Alive Following Lahaina Fire

The 150-year-old Maui Banyan Tree, which has weathered fires and still stands as a symbol of strength, is still in a critical period of recovery and rehabilitation. The recent fire, the most devastating chapter in its storied history, left the tree first in a dormant state, and now it is growing.

50% recovery of Maui Banyan Tree now predicted by experts.

The most recent updates from experts tending to the Maui Banyan Tree offer a mixed prognosis regarding its future. Late last year, it was believed that about 40% of the tree would survive, which has since been upgraded to 50%.

Horticultural air layering technique to be used next in tree rehabilitation.

Tree air layering helps propagate plants, trees, and parts thereof that are still connected to the parent. The air layering technique is used not only for tree regeneration after fires but also for propagation and rejuvenation in other situations. Three BOH editors have used it to create new trees and plants for years.

The process starts by selecting a healthy branch, typically about an inch in diameter. A cut is made around the branch, penetrating the bark and cambium layers. The bark is then removed, with rooting hormone applied to stimulate growth. The exposed area is wrapped with moist material like moss and covered with a wrapping. In the subsequent weeks to months, roots develop.

Once the roots have formed, the air-layered part can be separated from its location on the tree and moved. This is a long-time method for propagation that preserves the parent tree’s genetics, providing a reliable way to create new plants from existing ones or in this case, extending the size of the Maui Banyan Tree.

Trimming of the dead portions of the tree is expected to begin shortly.

Maui Banyan Tree since 1873.

It was planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Maui’s first Protestant mission. A New Year’s Day fire, about 50 years after its planting, destroyed thirty buildings in Lahaina. Now, more than 100 years since that fire, the tree found itself once again touched by the flames, bearing the scars of Lahaina’s recent tragedy.

Initially just 8 feet tall with a single trunk, the Banyan Tree grew into a towering 60-foot giant, with a canopy spreading over nearly two acres and a circumference of a quarter of a mile. It was believed to be the largest of its kind in the United States, with some 64 major trunks. Over the years, Lahaina residents and visitors alike cherished this majestic tree, hanging jars of water on its aerial roots to aid its growth.

The tree faced challenges due to drought conditions before the fire.

Yet the Banyan Tree remained a cherished symbol in Lahaina. However, the recent fire initially cast total uncertainty on its future, given that thin-bark trees like this one typically struggle in wildfires. Fortunately, however, the tree did survive.

The tree came out of a coma-like condition following the fire. Restoration efforts included daily watering and soil aeration. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation plays a pivotal role in these tree recovery efforts together with the Lahaina Treescape Restoration Project.

Memories of the Maui Banyan Tree.

These memories include seeking shade while waiting for the Lanai Ferry, taking respite from the Lahaina sun, or admiring its luminance during the holidays. The tree has long been a meeting point for locals and visitors, hosting historical events and providing a backdrop for many festivals.

Comments from visitors about the Maui Banyan Tree.

“I am praying for the tree.I visited the tree 7 years ago. Hoping to visit the tree again. Both myself and the tree are both struggling to make it.”

“We have been visiting Maui since 1998. We Always spend time in Lahaina because we love the town, the people, and the businesses there. This fire has saddened us deeply, and our family hopes for a positive recovery that retains the Hawaiian culture. We are so pleased to hear that the banyan tree may be a point of light in the survival of the Lahaina. We will return, just as we expect Lahaina Town and the banyan tree will return.”

“My husband was in the Navy in the 60’s. He was stationed there in Hawaii for his duration! Years and years later, we went on a cruise, and one of the ports was Lahaina; he had many memories there. We were sitting on a bench and he said I carved my initials in that tree. He went over to look and found them!!! We were both shocked and elated to find them. I took a picture, and we talked about all his memories! He is gone now, but I was so scared the tree was burned down!! Thankfully, it didn’t, so my memories are intact. Thank you. I hope to someday come and visit that tree again in Lahaina.”

“I was lucky enough to be sitting under the Lahaina Banyan tree talking story with a kamaina and he pointed to some children playing and said these were his grandchildren. That was my most cherished memory of the trip. I’m worried for the tree and the local people.”

“I saw the banyan tree for the first time in January. While there, I walked around, meditated inside one of the trunks, and drew pictures. The potential survival of this amazing tree represents our ability to do enough to stop the “age of fire” in the islands.”

“I share April 24th birthday with the banyan tree…over the years, I have been in Maui to celebrate. My heart is with this beautiful tree and all who are hurting…sending blue light for the speedy recovery from this tragedy.
Forever a part of our history, we will never forget!”

“We visited Maui in 2015 and loved the sight of the Banyan tree in full bloom. It is so beautiful, and I pray it will come out of its coma alive and well. Thank you all for taking care of this magical tree.”

“I love the Lahaina banyan tree more than words can express. I last saw it in 2006, and my fondest wish is to walk under its astonishing canopy again.”

“It’s been about two years since I walked under the banyan tree. Every time we went to Maui, we visited the most amazing tree I’ve ever seen”.

“Nature is always coming back, and so will the Banyan Tree in Lahaina and, with it the strength of the people rebuilding this wonderful town. I am sure, when I am back next June, the tree will be full of green leaves.”

“OMG… The Banyan Tree has always brought back fantastic memories of Hawaii. Beginning with my first visit to Maui in 1962, my 1973 honeymoon, and subsequent visits every five years. We last visited The Tree in March of this year. We are planning to visit The Tree and the renewed Lahaina in 2028. Meanwhile, we are praying for The Tree and All Hawaiians.”

“I have been to beautiful Maui and Lahaina 6 times. My first Time was when they were digging for for artifacts near the banyan tree and the old Pioneer Inn about 94 or 95 I still have an album with pictures.”

“”My friends here in the South Bay Area still have a home in Kahului. Their uncle, who has a cabin in upcountry Kula, is still missing. The daughter, Maile, recently recalled how, as a child, she played on the limbs of the beloved banyan.

“Everyone is praying for its recovery which stands now as a symbol of recovery for Lahaina town. I shed tears each day for those lost to this tragedy. I remember walking past the tree & the Pioneer Hotel & being impressed by its presence.”

“The birds! The birds! Loved it there at sunset with all the mynas saying “G’nite” to one another! Just believing it will yet survive…”

“How could I ever forget the mynas and the wonderful International MarketPlace.”

“I remember the banyan from my last visit to Lāhainā, a magnificent natural fixture despite its commemorative purpose of acknowledging the arrival of the American Congregationalist Missionaries to Maui in 1823. Additionally, King Kamehameha III died in 1854, and the last of the Kamehameha monarchs (Kamehameha V) passed in 1872. The tree was planted in 1873, so the only Hawaiian Kingdom monarch to have possibly celebrated one of his birthdays under the tree was King Kalākaua, who is from a different ali’i dynastic line.”

“My husband and I spend about 6 weeks every Feb. on Maui. We adore the people on island, but the whales are the best! I love all trees, and the banyan tree is so remarkably beautiful. I also love your rainbow eucalyptus trees. I pray for all of you and hope the banyan will heal with all of you.”

“The Lahaina Banyon tree is amazing. The first time we saw it, we just sat admiring at the many trunks and spread of its canopy. I hope it does recover to show the resilience of Maui and it’s residents. Aloha.”

“When I visited Maui in the 1980’s I had to see the Lahaina Banyan. And it didn’t disappoint. I have fond memories of sitting in the shade of that beautiful tree. May it continue to be a symbol of resiliency for the people of Lahaina.”

Sad, Prayers for everyone’s recovery.. Lahaina, great memories for me…Back in the 90’s, I took my mom there for her dream trip…We shopped and ate in Lahaina, and I got my first small butterfly tattoo at a shop there. Loved the old-school feel and look of the town. We walked around, and then I saw the Banyan tree…omg…magnificent..
When the news first started coming across about the fire, it was devastating, but I kept looking for news about this awesome tree.. So glad there seems to be hope for it,,, and for the spirit of Lahaina,..Did It Survive ? ? ?”

“We renewed our wedding vows under the Banyan tree for our 20th anniversary. That was nearly 30 years ago. We had attended a luau at Royal Lahaina with friends. My hubby spontaneously asked our friend, who was a pastor, if he would do the honors. It was a memorable evening. Our dear friend has since passed away, and we grieved for the beloved Banyan tree when we heard it might be lost. So many memories have been made there.”

“I picked Lahaina as the base for my Maui vacation. I could take the ferry ⛴ to Molokai and Lanai. I definitely wanted to see the Banyan tree and took pictures. I hope it makes a glorious comeback”.”

“We neeeeeeed that tree to survive. After everything else that happened in and with the fire, we need that tree to rally around.”

“Our fondest memories circa 2001 were on Saturdays when they had art in the park underneath the tree. Met Michael Stark, the artist, there and have been a fan his ever since. Hope the tree recovers.”

“If the tree survivors, it will be a rallying/spiritual point for all those who lost their loved ones, homes and businesses to this devastating tragedy. It will be one of the remaining reminders of old Lahaina and the resilience of the Hawaiian people. I have come to Maui almost every year since 2008, and this tree is one of the places I always come to to eat an ice cream and marvel at its beauty. There is something truly spiritual about Lahaina.”

“Man, where do you start to describe the banyan tree? The first time I saw it, I was in awe. Always a must-visit on every trip to Maui. Watching the people under the tree, taking pictures of cats lounging in the tree, bringing friends and family to see the huge tree. Just sitting under it and enjoying the respite from the sun. It truly is the symbol of Lahaina and hopefully it’s survival begins the healing and the renaissance of the beloved town.”

“In Feb 2020, right before Covid hit the mainland, my wife and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary with a visit to the islands of Hawaii, with a particularly memorable photo in front of the banyan tree in Lahaina. We had paradise-level experiences on the islands and so greatly enjoyed getting to know the locals, the culture, and the history with Maui’s famous banyan tree as a center point. We cry for the people of Maui and with all those going through so much as a result of the fire, and hope the locals and the amazing sites and history can be restored for all to wonder at as we did.”

What are your memories of the famous Maui Banyan Tree in Lahaina?

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3 thoughts on “A Symbol of Strength: Maui’s Banyan Tree 50% Alive Following Lahaina Fire”

  1. Although we have been to Hawaii several times, we have been to Maui only once. While on the island, we spent part of our afternoon sitting under the tree and watching others enjoy its’ presence as well. I can recall people painting, writing and just relaxing. The fire is a tragedy, but the total loss of the tree would make it all the more worse. Fifty percent is better than nothing at all.

  2. In our 30+ years of hugging the Banyon Tree we have not noticed many changes, save for support beams added here and there to ease the branch load on the tree. Our most visceral Banyon Tree memory year after year is the sound of the birds singing in the trees. We hear the beautiful cacophony long before we can see the tree itself. Birds know a good thing. Cannot wait to see the tree again. I am sure it will be bittersweet, and will still take my breath away.

  3. First saw the Banyan Tree in June of 1965. It’s a very special place that we have visited many times on our yearly visits since then. We are all praying for the full recovery of this majestic and sacred tree. The most recent news about the Banyan Tree is very encouraging. Aloha ke akua!!!

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