Lahaina banyan tree sprouting new leaves

The historic Lahaina banyan tree rises among the Wildfire wreckage on Aug. 10 in Lahaina, Maui. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A man reacts as he sits on the Lahaina historic banyan tree damaged by a wildfire on Aug. 11 in Lahaina, Maui. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

New growth sprouting from the 150-year-old banyan tree in Lahaina offers signs of hope for its revival more than a month after fire singed its leaves.

Clusters of green leaves have since grown from the iconic tree’s trunk and branches, as well as on the ground beneath it at Lahaina’s courthouse square, according to a hui of arborists and volunteers who have been diligently tending to the tree.


“The signs are going in the right direction,” said arborist Steve Nimz. “We are getting new growth on the tree.”

However, Nimz is careful not to offer much more at this point in time, saying the tree is still in intensive care and that only time will tell of its progress.

He says it’s been overwhelming that so many people have been willing to help, and that he appreciates all the efforts to save the iconic banyan tree, which occupies nearly 2 acres along Front Street.

Signs of hope began to spring at the end of August, according to the group.

County arborist Timothy Griffith noted at least a dozen new shoots on both the aerial root props and main limbs anywhere from 6 to 20 feet up in the tree. He called it a welcome sight, and hopes it is the start of more to come.

Cliff Tillotson of Prometheus Construction, who has fond childhood memories of the tree and felt compelled to take action, contacted Nimz, a veteran arborist, after the Aug. 8 fire.

After a blessing by Kumu Kapono Kamaunu on Aug. 12, Nimz inspected the tree and found no significant signs of singeing, charring or cracking on the main trunk or most of its more than 40 aerial roots.

He also found that there was still live tissue in the tree’s cambium beneath the bark layer and that the soil beneath the tree did not appear burned. He drafted up a recovery plan that is being implemented.

Days after the fire, volunteers arranged for water tankers from Goodfellow Bros. to start a regular watering program for the banyan’s crown and roots.

The newly formed hui, including Maui arborists, landscapers and dozens of volunteers, is working around the clock to revive the tree. The ground around it has been aerated to improve drainage and is getting regular servings of nutrient-rich “compost tea.”

They say the tree seems to be responding, and Nimz noted recently that there have been signs of new roots shooting from root samples.

A dozen sensors, or ePlant tree tags, have been deployed and are helping to track water, growth and stress of the banyan, along with humidity, temperature and light.

The Indian banyan, planted as a sapling in 1873, has been designated an “Exceptional Banyan Tree ” and is beloved by many who consider it the heart of the community.

The Lahaina Restoration Foundation says it was planted to honor the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, started at the request of Queen Keopuolani.

Its survival is seen as a symbol of hope and resilience amid the Lahaina catastrophe, which claimed the lives of at least 97 people and destroyed 2,200 structures.

The group has expanded its efforts to watering and saving historic breadfruit, or ulu, trees and a few other exceptional survivor trees in the area.

Nimz said the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, Maui Arborist Advisory Committee and Maui Green & Beautiful helped identify these trees of concern and that they have been marked for watering, too. He said the team is committed to saving these trees as well.

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