After a sudden, tragic wildfire raged through Lahaina, Hawaii on August 9, a symbol of resilience and hope has emerged: the neighborhood’s beloved, historic 150-year-old Banyan tree. The huge 60′ landmark tree, which covers two aces, is badly damaged but should survive.
More than 100 residents died in the shocking, sudden fires which raged in early August, and many more are still missing. The fires destroyed 2,200 buildings just in Lahaina, and caused more than $6 billion in damages. But amidst the deep tragedy, the town’s beloved banyan has become a symbol of hope, according to the news website The Messenger.
Arborist Steve Nimz, acting as a consultant to Hawaii’s lead arborist, told KITV that the huge, historic Banyan is currently like “a person that is in a coma.” Nimz and his crew found live tissue on all the tree’s 16 main trunks, as well as sap, although the flow is low.
Amazingly, the tree’s base was still smoldering days after the fires, as captured by a witness on Twitter.
Arborists to the Rescue
With the help of an aerial lift, Nimz inspected the upper canopy of the Banyan. He found dead leaves, fruit, and twigs still attached to the branches, but more live tissue underneath — a sign of life. Nimz told the Messenger that arborists plan to leave the burnt leaves undisturbed. Even dead, they should act as a kind of umbrella that reduces the levels of sunlight coming through the canopy. Direct sun could damage the roots, especially since the now-exposed base of the tree was well-shaded before the blaze.
Arborists have also implemented a regimen of irrigation, compost, and soil aeration. They are adding compost and mulch mixes to the base of the Banyan with micronutrients mixed in to stimulate root growth, while aerating and watering the soil. “That will help as a blanket” as the tree recovers, Nimz said.
According to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, the tree was planted on April 24, 1873, to mark the 50th anniversary of the town’s first Protestant mission. The sapling was then just 8′ tall. Since then, the tree, which has grown to more than 60′, has become a landmark in the courthouse square in Lahaina. It is considered the largest banyan tree in the U.S.
The canopy has a circumference of about one-fourth of a mile, and about a thousand people could congregate under it. A sight to watch at dusk was the gathering of common mynah birds, which roost in the tree for the night, causing a cacophony of bird cries. Native Hawaiians — and tree-lovers from all over — hope to hear those sounds again soon.
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