‘Symbol of hope’: Lahaina’s beloved banyan shows new growth after fires

A colossal, beloved 150-year-old banyan tree at the centre of Lahaina town that was scorched when deadly wildfires ravaged Maui, Hawaii, last month is showing viridescent signs of new growth.

Related: Hawaii fires: number of fatalities drops to 97 as DNA tests help identify victims

The tree, which has been described as the “heartbeat of Lahaina Town” was badly singed, but still standing last month after fires killed at least 97 people and reduced much of the historic town to ash.

A man sits on the historic banyan tree damaged by a wildfire on 11 August 2023.
The mammoth tree was a gift from Indian missionaries and planted in 1873. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Since then, arborists have volunteered their time and expertise to save the tree, according to Hawaii’s department of land and natural resources (DLNR) – and have suggested that new leaves sprouting from the tree’s singed branches are a positive sign of recovery.

“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 Lāhainā,” landscape contractor Chris Imonti told reporters earlier this month as he and others worked carefully to aerate the soil around the tree and replenish it with nutrients. “We don’t know what’s down the line, but I think it’s going to be a new beginning for everybody.”

Imoti and other volunteers have doused the tree’s roots with thousands of gallons of water, and are taking root samples to measure the tree’s health.

The mammoth tree was a gift from Indian missionaries. It was planted in 1873, a quarter century before the Hawaiian Islands were declared a US territory. For generations, it has been a cherished landmark, shading community events and celebrations. Before the fires, the town had celebrated the banyan’s 150th birthday with cake.

Now, much of the town has been razed by the fire, and thousands of displaced residents have been staying at hotels and vacation rentals. Rental assistance will be offered for 18 months, officials said, and the road to rebuilding the town will likely be long.

The banyan tree before the Maui wildfires.
The banyan tree before the Maui wildfires. Photograph: robertharding/Alamy

Last week, the US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm toured the wreckage in Lahaina, where teams are still searching for missing persons.

“Lāhainā’s Banyan tree represents the deep roots of this community. Even in the face of unspeakable heartache, its limbs reach outward and upward,” she wrote on social media. “Honored to bear witness as the people of Maui rebuild, recover, and reach outward and upward themselves.”