Lahaina’s 150-Year-Old Banyan Tree Showing Signs of Life

by SharonKurheg

The wildfires that decimated Maui’s historic city of Lahaina were devastating and made for hardship beyond belief. The 2,200 acres of fires caused:

  • 97 confirmed deaths (revised from 115 a week or so ago; there were some duplicates in a catalog of remains)
  • 31 still missing (whittled down from 385 a few weeks ago)
  • 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed
  • 7,000 people left homeless

The loss is, of course, the worst for the residents of the area. However, Lahaina was a tourist town where about 2 million people came to visit every year (Joe and I went to Lahaina during our honeymoon in February, 2002).

One of the most popular attractions in Lahaina was its famous Banyan tree, located in Banyan Court Park. It was planted on April 24, 1873, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the town’s first Protestant mission, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Over the years, the Banyan tree had grown to over 60 feet tall, and had become the focal point of Lahaina’s courthouse square.

people sitting on benches under a large tree

After the fire, the tree was still standing but appeared scorched and no one was sure if it would survive. Since then, Maui arborists, landscapers and volunteers have been caring for the tree, and helping to rehabilitate it by airing out its soil, and treating it with a nutrient-rich compost. Tankers of water had also been dumping hundreds of gallons of water on the tree every few hours. Along with all that, Alfalfa was being used to help revive the tree’s leaf system, and special monitors were placed on tree limbs to determine where water was moving within.

And now, just a month after the fire, there’s some good news. New clusters of green leaves have begun sprouting on its massive branches. Even better, as seen in a video posted by the Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources), numerous bunches of greenery and plant life have also started to grow around the tree and on its soil.

Experts believe “two large” monkeypod trees helped protect the Banyan, Duane Sparkman, Chairman of the Maui County Arborist Committee, told ABC affiliate KITV.

“It brought the heat way up high and it pushed the fire over the top of the Banyan tree,” Sparkman explained to KITV, noting that even the benches and light posts underneath the tree went untouched.

Though it’s now been determined that most of the tree is in good shape, about 10% of the Banyan may eventually need to be removed, Sparkman told KITV.

The Lahaina banyan tree serves as a ray of hope for Lahaina residents, who lost everything in the Maui wildfires. Not only that, the tree serves as a special place for many, whether using it to serve as the perfect backdrop for a wedding proposal or just as a shady spot to rest from the sun. That it’s doing OK is good news for, not just the people of Lahaina, but to visitors from all over the world, who have appreciated it over the past 150 years.

Feature photo: Rick Obst / flickr / CC BY 2.0

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