The banyan tree, the anchor of Banyan Tree Park on Front Street in Lahaina, might be the most iconic place on Maui. OK, the summit of Haleakala probably wins the prize, but the banyan tree rates a close second. As Front Street is a major tourist destination itself, the banyan tree is seen by hundreds of thousands of people every year. Here is a brief history of the banyan tree in Lahaina.
Originally gifted by missionaries from India, the banyan tree in Lahaina is not only the largest banyan tree in Hawaii, it’s the largest in the United States. The tree was planted by the then sheriff of Lahaina, William Owen Smith, on April 24, 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission on Maui.
While it was 8 feet tall with a single trunk when it was planted in 1873, it now stands over 60 feet tall with a canopy spread of 2/3rds of an acre (a quarter mile). A common misconception, due to the number of trunks, is that the banyan tree is composed of several trees that have fused together. However, it’s actually single trunk that has rooted into 16 major trunks. It truly is just one tree. Unlike most trees, banyan trees actually sprout aerial roots that hang down from its branches. When these roots become long enough to touch ground, they root themselves in place.
As large as the Lahaina banyan tree is, it’s a mere sliver compared to the largest banyan tree in the world. That distinction falls on a banyan tree in India that covers 4.7 acres and can provide shelter for over 20,000 people!
OK, back to the Lahaina banyan tree. The Maui County Arborist Committee is tasked with not only keeping the tree alive, but also maintaining the shape of the tree. The tree is the centerpiece of the aptly named Banyan Tree Park, which is maintained by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
The park sits on the grounds of the Old Lahaina Fort. After the fort was demolished in 1854, a courthouse was built to replace it. Prior to being renamed Banyan Tree Park, the park went by the moniker Lahaina Courthouse Square. Long time locals often refer to the park by that name. The courthouse still stands and houses the Lahaina Arts Society, the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and the Lahaina Town Action Committee.
A trip to Maui, especially a first time trip, isn’t really complete until you’ve witnessed the enormity and beauty of the Lahaina Banyan Tree in person. Pictures don’t really do it justice. So next time you’re on Maui, swing on by and marvel at this magnificent tree.