Thousands of leaves on the 150-year-old Lahaina banyan tree are scorched but its multiple trunks show little sign of being singed during the Aug. 8 firestorm that devastated this historic, coastal West Maui community.
Just days after the fire, volunteers arranged for water tankers to come by and douse it with hundreds of gallons of water every few hours. Maui arborists, landscapers, and volunteers formed a hui to care for the tree and now it’s receiving unprecedented love in the wake of the disaster.
“We did root samples last week and we had very good news as far as new life in the roots. A lot of new roots shooting off,” landscape contractor Chris Imonti told the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. “We tested the moisture and arborist Steve Nims, who is the unofficial leader of the Banyan Tree hui has analyzed all the treatments and he is out today putting sensors on the tree to measure growth rates. With the compost tea we are seeing good results and as long as we give it enough love, I think it’s going to be fine.”
Imonti is one of thousands of people locally and from around the world who have a special place for the tree, which covers an entire half a block. Weddings, vow renewals, honeymoon photographs, are among the multitude of memories people have of the Lahaina banyan.
The ultimate survival of the tree has become symbolic of what many hope for the fire-ravaged town.
Imonti, who owns and operates C. Imonti Landscaping said, “I’ve been here for years and years so, like many others, I have a personal attachment to the tree. To me, it’s a symbol of hope. We’re taking it to heart to try to bring back the tree, to give some hope to Lahaina. We don’t know what’s down the line, but I think it’s going to be a new beginning for everybody.”
In addition to keeping the bare ground around the tree well-watered it has been aerated and is getting treatment with “compost tea,” a mix of natural ingredients being shot into the ground around the circumference of the tree. In addition, volunteers chopped up small blocks of alfalfa, a legume, and spread it around on the ground. It’s an experiment to see if the nutrients contained in the alfalfa will help.
At the Lahaina Small Boat Harbor and behind the burned-out shell of the old courthouse, signs detailing the historical significance of the tree survived the flames. They detail the tree’s history.
Beneath an undated, but old photo of a large crowd gathered in the shade of the tree, the placard reads, “Planted as a sapling in 1873, the Banyan Tree’s majestic proportions have been lovingly tended and symmetrically shaped by Lahaina residents. They used the comfort of its shade as a gathering place for recreation, lūʻau feasts, and ceremonial events.”
Hopes are that the the tender loving care the tree is getting now, will restore the Banyan Tree to, as the signs proclaims, “Lahaina’s Banyan Tree – A Gathering Place.”
*Note: DLNR is not involved in the recovery of the Lahaina Banyan Tree. The information is provided as an update.