US /

Amid Maui Destruction, the 'Heartbeat of Lahaina' Endures

Historic 150-year-old banyan tree is scorched but still standing—for now
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2023 10:35 AM CDT
In Midst of Maui Destruction, a Historic Landmark Endures
The banyan tree rises among the wildfire wreckage on Thursday in Lahaina, on the island of Maui. For 150 years, the colossal tree has shaded community events from the Hawaiian sun.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The wildfire that's been tearing across the island of Maui has proven devastating, with people forced to leap into the ocean to escape the smoke and flames and a growing death toll of more than 50. The city of Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was especially hard hit, with much of it destroyed as of Thursday. One landmark there in particular has been on everyone's radar: the 60-foot-high banyan tree in the center of town, a historic landmark that has offered shade to locals and visitors alike for 150 years, per the AP.

The banyan, whose 16 trunks and limbs spread over nearly an acre along Lahaina's Front Street, is scorched but still standing, reports the Honolulu Civil Beat, though it's not clear if it will ultimately make it. There is serious damage reported as well in the Banyon Court Park, the land surrounding the tree, while across Lahaina and Maui as a whole, hundreds of structures and other landmarks have been wiped out by the fire, per USA Today.

The tree was just 8 feet tall in 1873, the year it arrived as a gift from India and was planted—25 years before Hawaii became a US territory. Now it's the biggest banyan tree in Hawaii, and one of the largest in the world, according to one local site. No one's sure if the banyan tree, called "the heartbeat of Lahaina," will survive, but residents are trying to stay optimistic. "It's burned, but I looked at the trunk and the roots and I think it's going to make it," one Maui local tells the AP, calling the tree a "diamond in the rough of hope."

story continues below

Whether that kind of wishful thinking can overcome reality remains to be seen. "It's said that if the roots are healthy, it will likely grow back, but it looks burned," a local Maui website notes. James Friday, an extension forester with the University of Hawaii, is unfortunately in agreement. "It certainly doesn't look like that tree is going to recover," he tells the New York Times, noting that the tree's bark was likely too thin to offer it any real protection. (More Maui stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.