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The Historic Banyan Tree of Hawaii

Banyan Tree

The unique island of Maui offers innumerable features and beautiful landscapes for visitors and locals to enjoy. One of the more prominent areas in Maui is the historic town of Lahaina, which was once called “Lele” meaning “restless sun.”  Lahaina was once famed for being a popular whaling port in the 19th century, when hundreds of ships would pass through the waters during the whales’ migratory months throughout the year.  To this day it is still one of the prime whale watching hot-spots, and is a town full of character and significance.

Lahaina possesses nearly 55 acres that have been marked for historic districts.  Having both a plantation settlement and a whaling port, this town offers an informative self-guided tour and adventure walk lined with landmarks and areas of interest.  For those visiting the island of Maui, stopping in Lahaina is a must, and visiting the famous Banyan Tree of Lahaina is an attraction to prioritize.

The banyan tree was planted by Sheriff William Owen Smith on April 24, 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary the missionary establishment on Lahaina.  The tree was sent as a gift from missionaries in India, and though the tree was only 8 feet tall when it was initially planted, the banyan now covers an entire city block.  With the wide expanse of leaves appearing from a distance like a small forest, this tree is hard to miss as you approach Lahaina Courthouse Square.

The word “banyan” comes from the Gujarati language meaning merchant, where the Portuguese used the word to refer to Hindu traders who would sell their wares under the shady covering of the tree.  The word was recorded by English writers in the 16th and 17th centuries, when “banyan” became the term for the family of trees themselves.

Banyan trees are unique in that they not only grow vertically, but they also develop horizontally.  Thin roots grow to the surface of the ground, and then can extend along forming a new trunk, or growing alongside the hosting one.  Here it will thicken and weave along the original trunk, branching out if the growth of the tree is unencumbered.  A banyan is a kind of fig tree, and has many families (such as the Moreton Bay fig tree), whose seeds are dispersed by birds, many of which germinate and begin to grow roots extending to the ground, and weaving through other trunks.  When these take root, the horizontal expansion continues to develop.  These larger-than-life trees are so unique and beautiful that they have been immortalized in legend, religious folklore, literature, and even on the Indonesian coat of arms.  Hindus believe that the leaf of a banyan tree is the resting place for their god Krishna, and Buddha is said to have received enlightenment under a banyan tree.  In the famous novel Robinson Crusoe, the shipwrecked main character builds himself a house in a banyan’s extensive branches. Today the trees are considered sacred in India and Pakistan.  Banyan trees grow in many places on the Hawaiian Islands, but the largest tree is on Maui.

The Lahaina Banyan tree over 15 major trunks, and reaches over 60 feet in height.  The dangling vines and labyrinth of branches and dark leaves make this tree quite a spectacle to behold.  In the evenings, countless birds alight on the limbs and create an orchestra of squawking and singing.  Though it may not prove the most opportune moment to walk beneath the bows, under such a host of birds, there are certainly many opportunities to enjoy the shelter of the banyan tree.  As Lahaina hosts many art exhibits, crafts and tradeshows, the banyan offers a natural canopy perfectly designed for such gatherings.  One of the most consistent of these events is Art in the Park which occurs every second and fourth weekend of the month.  Here you can peruse a collection of colorful paintings and artistic designs on display under the flourishing tree.  In the town of “restless sun,” it is nice to take a breather under the majestic, shady bows of the largest tree of its kind in the United States.

Other trees of the banyan family can be found across the Hawaiian Islands.  Kauai has beautiful Moreton Bay fig trees.  On the island of Oahu, the banyans have struggled against insects which have damaged the large trees, and many are working to preserve the health of this striking plant.  The banyan trees in Hawaii are perfect examples of how Hawaiian flora and fauna, language, culture and cuisine, etc. have been derived from the rich mixture from numerous cultures across the world.  Polynesians, influenced by European, Asian, Indian culture, etc., have made Hawaii one of the most diverse and glorious places to visit.  For other spectacular landmarks, fun festivals, and exciting events, contact Panda Travel ® and we will be happy to help you arrange your Hawaiian vacation today.

Banyan Tree on Oahu


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