Amid the charred ruins of Lahaina, one of the historic town’s cherished landmarks is still standing: a 150-year-old banyan tree. But it appears to have been badly singed by the fires that devastated Lahaina, on the west coast of Maui, and it is unclear whether the tree will survive.
Lahaina was once Hawaii’s royal capital, and the tree on Front Street is one of the town’s many historical marvels. It was just eight feet tall when it was planted in 1873 to commemorate a Protestant mission to Lahaina a half-century earlier, but years of careful tending by residents helped it grow to more than than 60 feet tall, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which manages more than a dozen historic sites in the town.
“It’s said that if the roots are healthy, it will likely grow back,” county officials said in an update about the tree late Wednesday. “But it looks burned.” County and tourism officials did not immediately respond to requests for more information on Thursday morning.
Banyans, which are native to the Indian subcontinent, can grow so big that each tree looks like a small forest. The trees have aerial roots that develop in the branches and reach down toward the ground, forming new trunks as their canopies broaden. In Lahaina, people have encouraged the tree’s growth by hanging jars of water to tug the most promising aerial roots toward the earth.
The leafy canopy has grown to cover more than half an acre. The tree sits next to an old courthouse that has also served as a customs house, and it has become a natural gathering spot for craft fairs and other community events where people enjoy the shade of its sweeping branches.
On Thursday morning, Theo Morrison, the foundation’s executive director, expressed some optimism about the tree’s future. “Banyan trees are hard to kill,” she said.
But she also reported that the roof of the old courthouse beside the tree was gone, and that the heritage museum inside it had been destroyed.
Anushka Patil contributed reporting.