Lahaina’s banyan tree damaged by Maui wildfires shows new life
September 19, 2023
Lahaina’s giant banyan tree, scorched by the flames of Maui’s deadly wildfires, is showing small signs of recovery: sprouting a batch of fresh green leaves.
The 150-year-old banyan, which stands 60 feet tall, has long been cherished by locals and tourists on the island. But it is not just a tree. Conservation experts say it is the largest of its kind in the United States, and to many residents it is considered a landmark — frequently a backdrop to meetups and the scene of wedding proposals.
The August blazes were the deadliest in modern American history, killing at least 97 people and razing entire homes and communities. There are still 31 open reports of missing people, according to officials who have spent weeks trying to identify victims.
Amid the devastation from the fires, the tree is “just about the only thing left” standing in the historic town, U.S. senators from Hawaii said — burned and badly covered in ash, but still there. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) said in the days following the tragedy that the “iconic tree” was “deeply damaged, but still standing,” and expressed hope it would survive.
On Monday, Maui’s Department of Land and Natural Resources announced good news. It shared a video showing a collection of fresh green leaves on the banyan, calling them “positive signs of long-term recovery” and acknowledging the work of arborists who had been volunteering to save the tree.
Volunteers have been working toward the banyan’s recovery for weeks, carefully tending to its soil, monitoring it for signs of growth, and even providing it with what they call “tree-loving soup,” Hawaii Magazine reported earlier this month.
The soup, a concoction of nutrients made by landscape contractor Chris Imonti, was created as part of the local mission to recover the tree. “Like many others, I have a personal attachment to the tree,” Imonti told the magazine. “We’re taking it to heart to try to bring back the tree, to give some hope to Lāhainā.”
Arborist Steve Nimz found live tissue in the tree’s cambium, the layer just below the bark, after the disaster, and told Hawaii Magazine this month that root samples indicated “very good news as far as new life in the roots.”
Local media described the leaves as “rising from the ashes” and a “sign of hope,” adding that “the ultimate survival of the tree has become symbolic of what many hope for the fire-ravaged town.”
The banyan was planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Over the years, residents worked to cultivate the tree, hanging jars of water on specific roots to help it grow symmetrically.
Other sites were also damaged or lost in the fires, including a missionary home thought to be the oldest standing house on Maui and a Buddhist temple.
“Lāhainā’s Banyan tree represents the deep roots of this community. Even in the face of unspeakable heartache, its limbs reach outward and upward,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tweeted last week as she visited the aftermath of the disaster.