The survival of the 150-year-old Banyan Tree in Lahaina is a focus now of everyone. Its comeback will be a testament to the strength of the people of Maui for years to come. About 50 years after the tree was planted, a fire in Lahaina on New Year’s Day destroyed thirty buildings. And now, over 104 years after that fire, the tree has seen another one, only this time, its been touched by the blaze and burned severely in the devastation of Lahaina.
The tree was placed there in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission on Maui. It was gifted by missionaries from India and planted by Sheriff William Owen Smith on April 24 of that year at the request of queen keōpūolani when the monarchy still ruled Hawaii.
It was 8 feet tall with a single trunk when first planted.
From there, it grew to be the 60 foot tall landmark of West Maui with a canopy spread of 1.94 acres and a circumference of a quarter of a mile. It is believed to be the largest banyan tree of its type in the United States. It’s one single trunk has sprouted many more trunks over the years. How this even happened is remarkable. The roots that hung down from its branches could eventually root and become new trunks when they met the ground. It has an amazing 64 major trunks. When it was first planted, residents would hang jars of water on these aerial roots to help it grow. And their efforts worked.
While the tree has seen many changes over the years, it’s always been at the center of the heart of Lahaina, and is the love of Lahaina residents and visitors alike. The fact that it still stands at the Lahaina harbor brings hope to a community starting to heal from its incomprehensible losses.
Efforts are underway to determine if there is life in the tree.
The tree near Front Street in Courthouse Square was under stress well before the fire because of Maui’s drought conditions. And also from environmental issues that came with increased development and more traffic. With the help of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, irrigation for the tree had previously been installed even before the fire.
What’s not known yet by scientists is how resilient banyan Lahaina’s banyan tree will be to the fire. They are thin-bark trees and usually don’t do well in wildfires. The heat and flames can penetrate their bark and reach the trees’ living cells.
In the case of this majestic tree, that didn’t happen. Arborists from the Maui County arborist committee report seeing tissue still alive under the bark, with no significant charring. That gives hope to the people of Maui, including Anthony Steele, who has cared for the tree since 2009.
However, there does not seem to be a good sap flow after the fire. Since it’s not oozing out the sap, the tree is almost in a coma state and is treated as such by arborists.
Current restoration efforts include a daily watering program provided by water trucks and adding a two-inch layer of compost and soil aeration. It will take four to six months to know what the future of the tree will be.
Share your memories of the banyan tree in Lahaina.
For us at Beat of Hawaii, memories include standing in its shade while waiting to board the Lanai Ferry or taking a break from the Lahaina sun. Or walking over to it from the now destroyed iconic Pioneer Inn. Also, when iI was lit up during the December holidays, we remember walking around it with the lights glowing. It’s always been a meeting place for locals and visitors and a prominent site for festivals.
It was reported that King Kamehameha III once had a birthday celebration and royal ball under historical landmark tree back in 1886. And recently, the tree was given its birthday celebration in April to mark the 150th. We hope the banyan tree will have many more birthdays and celebrations in the future.