Essay

How Did the Lahaina Banyan Tree Survive Maui’s Fires?

Devastating fires struck Hawaii’s island of Maui in August 2023. The fire that destroyed Lahaina on August 8 directly caused the deaths of over 100 individuals. Over eighty percent of the old town of Lahaina burned to the ground during this wildfire. Has the massive banyan tree in the town made it? How did the banyan tree in Lahaina weather the fires on Maui?

What Is the Lahaina Banyan Tree?

The Lahaina Banyan Tree is a 60-foot-tall, over 150-year-old Indian banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis). It is grown in Lahaina Courthouse Square, also called Lahaina Banyan Court Park. The August 2023 flames that ravaged Maui did not destroy the tree.

Imported from India, it was planted by the mayor in 1873 as a little seedling that measured only 8 feet in height. It was first planted as a part of a commemorative event honouring the region’s 50 years of Protestantism.

Not only is this specific banyan tree the biggest in the United States, but it’s also among the biggest worldwide. Its coverage area is a quarter of a mile, and it has sixteen trunks arranged over nearly two acres. It occupies a complete block in what was once Lahaina’s downtown, between Wharf Street and Front Street.

The Banyan Tree will celebrate its 150th birthday on April 24, 2023. It burnt less than five months later, along with nearly all of Lahaina.

How Did the Lahaina Banyan Tree Survive the Fires?

Because the top of the Lahaina banyan tree was where the fire burned the hottest, it managed to survive Maui’s fires.The fire beneath the massive branches of the tree did not cause as much harm as it could have.

Although the majority of the benches beneath the tree were in very recognisable condition, almost everything else around the tree did not survive the horrific fire. This further demonstrates that the fire beneath the tree wasn’t as intense as the fire around it.

The Old Lahaina Courthouse is completely damaged, but the walls closest to the tree still stand. The historic banyan tree was damaged during the fire, but by mid-September 2023, it was starting to grow.

The Reasons Behind the Survival of the Lahaina Banyan Tree

Because the banyan tree’s burned surface is covered with healthy vascular tissue, arborists are able to determine that the tree is still alive. Additionally, the tree showed the first indications of fresh growth on August 31, 2023.

Every day, labourers give the tree water, and they take great care to improve the surrounding soil. For instance, the area’s soil is being turned over to enable the removal of invisible burnt dirt. It aerates the soil as well.

The earth that was taken is being replaced with a mixture of chemicals and advantageous microorganisms, which enables the tree to absorb more nutrients than usual. Additionally, mulch has been added to the tree to aid with moisture retention. The sap in the healthy tissue isn’t flowing normally, and the tree is too damaged to leak sap normally.

Particularly on the side of the tree facing the water, new growth has started to appear. This growth is not just close to the ground but also high in the tree’s canopy. A third of the tree still exhibits no regeneration as all, and a third of the tree has grown remarkably. Though slowly, the final third is making progress.

The tree is in a coma, according to arborists, and it’s yet unclear if it will survive or grow. Still, the tree will probably grow back. For the time being, every trunk close to the ground is still alive.

Mynah Birds at the Lahaina Banyan Tree

Massive flocks of common mynah birds called the Lahaina Banyan Tree home. Mynah birds were a familiar sight in the tree’s branches prior to the fire, when it was in good health. They’re especially drawn to the tree when it’s time to consume its new fruit, and there have been hundreds of them to speak at once at times.

In 1865, mynah birds—a kind of starling that is an invasive species on the Hawaiian Islands—were brought in to control caterpillars. They flourished in numerous locations, and because these birds have taken over the native species’ food sources, many of those locations are severely threatened.

Since many varieties of mynah birds are gregarious and like socialising, they are popular options for pets. Although they are highly recognised for their mimicry, neither cuddling nor being tricked is something they enjoy.

They are able to pick up complicated orders and memorise roughly 100 human words. Aside from mimicking other sounds in their house, such as hammering with a tool, they also enjoy screaming, whistling, and other similar noises. Mynahs learn primarily through vocalisations, which accounts for their remarkable capacity for listening and repetition.

What Do Banyan Trees Symbolize?

Banyan trees are a symbol of power, alertness, the value of the past, and the achievement that results from consistent growth. Banyan trees are frequently enlightenment trees, similar to the one the Buddha sat beneath after reaching Nirvana. The Lahaina banyan tree is a Ficus benghalensis, whereas the particular banyan was a Ficus religiosa.

From a biological standpoint, both banyan trees are multitrunked fig trees. This kind of tree achieves this by sending roots from its huge branches down to the earth, where they take root, become stable, and spread out. This makes it possible for these trees to grow enormously and anciently.