A Symbol of Hope
One of the most recognizable landmarks of Lahaina (and all Maui) is the banyan tree at the appropriately named Banyan Court Park on Front Street. It’s hard to believe that just one tree could cover so much area—nearly a full block. Miraculously, it seems to have survived the fires of Aug. 8, 2023 and has become a symbol of hope for the future of Lahaina.
For decades, residents and visitors alike used the shade of this huge tree as a place to gather, rest, listen to music, support local artists and just enjoy the vibrant scene that was Lahaina’s Front Street. Its extensive branches, trunks and aerial roots spread out across the park, embracing everyone and giving ample space for anyone looking to escape the area’s famously brutal heat and sun. If a tree could have a personality, this is one that feels like an old friend even to newcomers.
Originally planted by the sheriff on April 24, 1873, the tree was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina. Banyan trees are not native to Hawai‘i (their home range is India) but the tropical environment here is exactly what they need. (You can find banyan trees on all the major Hawaiian Islands—the banyans along Banyan Drive in Hilo on Big Island are definitely worth checking out.) These trees can be encouraged to grow in certain directions and shapes, and some impressive examples can be seen via internet search of banyan tree limbs that have been shaped into bridges, entryways and tunnels. (The epitome of a long term project.)
The Lahaina banyan tree was only eight feet tall when first planted and expanded so greatly that supports were eventually placed to help the branches. Banyan trees put out aerial roots that grow from the branches down to the ground, eventually becoming new tree trunks once they’ve taken root. Over the decades, Lahaina residents would attach water jugs to the aerial roots to weigh them down and help guide them to form new trunks where they’d have the best chance to take root. This symbiotic relationship between the people and tree paid off in creating one of the most iconic parks in all Hawai‘i.
The Path Ahead
Time will tell if the Lahaina Banyan Tree fully recovers. Reports in the first few months after the fire showed that new sprouts and growth could be seen on the ocean facing parts of the tree. The Lahaina Treescape Restoration Project was created to help care for the banyan tree and other trees that survived the fire, as well as plant new native and endemic species as part of the recovery process. The Lahaina Banyan Tree is a part of the community, and everyone will be doing what they can to ensure their ancient neighbor continues to be a part of Lahaina. The people of Lahaina will continue to need support, and foundations such as the Hawaii Community Foundation are a great place to donate. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation is also a great place that helps restore and preserve Lahaina’s fascinating past.