The 150-year-old banyan tree in Lahaina still stands a week after deadly fires ravaged the town — and a dedicated group of tree lovers is determined to revive it.
“We’re not giving up hope,” said arborist Steve Nimz. “There’s no reason to give up yet.”
He inspected the tree over the weekend, and found no significant signs of singeing, charring or cracking on the main trunk or most of its aerial roots, with the exception of two. The tree has more than 40 aerial roots anchored in the soil.
After using a small pocket knife to cut through the thin bark layer into the tree’s cambium, he found there was still live tissue there, although very little sap oozed out when a lot should have for a healthy tree.
While leaves and fruits on the tree’s crown were shriveled and brown, the soil underneath did not appear to be burned, he said, and most of the wooden benches below it remained intact, which gives him hope.
Kumu Kapono Kamaunu blessed the tree Saturday, and a protection zone was set up around the banyan to protect it with fencing and signage.
The team has drawn up a daily watering program for the tree’s crown and the ground beneath it. Goodfellow Bros. will use their water trucks to continue hydrating it.
A two-inch layer of high-quality compost will be laid down around it, and the soil will be aerated to improve drainage.
The tree, planted in 1873 and designated an “Exceptional Banyan Tree,” was a gift from India and is beloved by many who consider it the heart of the community.
Cliff Tillotson of Prometheus Construction, who has his own childhood memories of the tree, said its revival is a much-needed symbol of hope.
“That tree has been a giving tree for decades,” he said. “There’s been weddings, art festivals, elderly people playing chess, families having picnic, kids climbing under that tree.”
It has given shade, and shelter and been a “giving force” for generations, he said.
Nimz said trees have survived fires before, and many can recover. He said he will do all he can to save the banyan tree, but that his heart also goes out to all the victims and lives lost from the fire that broke out Tuesday.
The tree’s health is secondary to the health of survivors, he said, and donations should continue to go to the people who are victims of the wildfire.
The team is dedicated to reviving the tree, but it’s now a matter of having patience, he said, to see if it wakes up and shows signs of regeneration.