In the heart of Lahaina – on 2/3 of an acre – stands the Banyan tree, though at first glance many think it’s a small forest. It is, in fact, one tree that stands 50 feet tall, is nearly a quarter of a mile around and has over than 10 trunks that anchor it into the ground.
That’s big news for a tree that was only 8 feet tall when it was brought from India and first planted by the courthouse in 1873 by the sheriff of Old Lahaina Town, William Owen Smith. Its original purpose was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lahaina’s first Christian Mission. Today it provides the shade for the celebration of life in Lahaina. Beneath it you’ll find craft shows, music events, meetings and those who are just in search of a nice place to sit and rest.
The very nature of the Banyan tree is what makes it so magnificent. The tree grows by the roots that hang from its branches. These roots are like soil-seeking missiles, and when enough of them reach the soil, they thicken and provide another trunk to support the tree’s mass. Essentially, it grows upwards and outwards. Of course, the tree is now such a beloved part of the community that it receives a bit of man-made help with posts to keep the old tree standing.
The Banyan tree is treated like a member of the community because it has played a significant part in Lahaina’s history. King Kamehameha III celebrated a birthday beneath its leaves, as it was a part of the ceremony that celebrated Hawaii’s inclusion in the United States of America.
The locals are worried, however, at how much the tree has been “loved” by those that pay it a visit. It’s tempting to climb the low, spread-out branches, and the trunk is showing its wear and tear. Everyone is invited to share in the shade, but encouraged to sit on the benches instead of the branches.