(KHON2) – After a fast-moving fire razed much of historic Lahaina on Maui’s west side Tuesday evening, one of the few iconic landmarks left is the 150-year-old banyan tree, which was scorched but not destroyed.
“Banyan Tree in Lahaina smoldering at the base, but still standing,” Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz posted Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Just about the only thing left, other than the Lighthouse.”
The colossal banyan, a gift shipped from India in 1873, was just 8 feet tall when Sheriff William Owen Smith planted it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
The tree grew over 60 feet high, with 46 additional trunks joining the first, providing a shady footprint of nearly two-thirds of an acre that has been a famed gathering place for visitors and residents alike.
Now, the iconic banyan’s future is unknown as it remains standing, surrounded by cars gutted by fire and buildings reduced to ash.
“Our experience maintaining the tree over the years is that it is a very strong tree well adapted to Lahaina’s climate,” Lahaina Restoration Foundation Executive Director Theo Morrison told KHON2 Friday. “As soon as we can access the site we will have an arborist evaluate the tree’s health and longevity prospects.”
The foundation, which celebrated the banyan’s 150th anniversary in April, has been maintaining Banyan Tree Park since 1990.
On Wednesday, Maui County officials said in an update that “the banyan tree is charred,” but added, “it’s said that if the roots are healthy, it will likely grow back, but it looks burned.”
James B. Friday, an extension forester with the University of Hawaii, wasn’t optimistic about the banyan’s chances of survival after looking at the fire damage captured in photos and videos of the tree.
“It certainly doesn’t look like that tree is going to recover,” Friday told the New York Times, adding that he didn’t think the layer of bark would have been thick enough to withstand the heat.
For Maui residents, who have never known Lahaina without the banyan’s surreal canopy, the arboreal specimen is much more than a tourist attraction.
“There’s just so much meaning attached to it and there’s so many experiences that everyone has. It’s in the heart of a historic town,” John Sandbach, who has lived on Maui for almost 20 years, told the Associated Press.
Others who returned to Lahaina this week, told the AP they are also holding out hope.
“It’s burned, but I looked at the trunk and the roots and I think it’s going to make it,” Tiffany Kidder Winn said. “It was kind of this diamond in the rough of hope.”