Maui is famous for its beautiful beaches, its gorgeous green landscape & views that look straight from a postcard or puzzle image. With white sand beaches, rich nature hikes & sights to see all around, its no wonder travelers feel more connected to the earth while on the island.
For one of the most unique earthly experiences, visit Lahaina Banyan Court Park. Located in historical Lahaina town near the harbor, grows the largest banyan tree in all of the united states, nestled between the Old Lahaina Courthouse & Lahaina Heritage Museum, just a 45 minute drive from the airport. This magnificent tree spans over 1.94 acres of land, covering more than a city block. With a circumference of over a quarter mile & a height of over 60 feet, this nearly 150 year old tree is built strong to the ground on its 16 trunks. A spectacle to relish along Front Street, the banyan tree gives the illusion that it is actually many trees planted in a group. As the banyan tree grows both vertically & horizontally, its aerial roots descend from the branches to the ground where they are able to take root, allowing for the vast trunks to grow. A true beautiful beast, the roots of these trees are capable of destroying septic systems, foundations & sidewalks with their power & ever growing massive limbs.
Scattered under the canopy of the banyan are picnic tables & benches, unlimited photo opportunities. Over 1,000 people could gather under the branches at one time, making it very clear as to why this park has almost 3,000 promising Google reviews. The shade of the banyan provides perfect & ideal location for many Maui events, like the annual “Lighting of the Banyan Tree” every December, when 6,500 lights are strung through its limbs & branches. Twice each month visitors can attend the Art In The Park under its canopy, along w/ annual Halloween celebrations & costume contests, weekend craft fairs, block parties & dance festivals.
As one of the largest banyan trees in the world, this massive living piece of our earth is the oldest banyan tree on Maui. A member of the fig family, of which over 60 types grow in the islands of Hawaii, this banyan was planted on April 24th, 1873. A gift given to Sheriff William Owen Smith by missionaries of India, a mere 8 foot sapling on that special day. The banyan was planted in celebration & honor of the 50th anniversary of the First Protestant Mission, which was initiated by Queen Keopuolani, wife & widow of King Kamehameha The Great. The “paniana” (in Hawaiian) became a staple of Lahaina, which was the capital of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845, leading to the expansion of this historical town & to the American Planning Association naming this street one of the 10 Greatest Streets in the United States.
Over the years, locals have engaged in hanging large glass jars of water on the aerial roots of the banyan tree to help to promote its growth. With threats to the tree looming due to soil compaction from both car & foot traffic, drought through the area & interruptions to its irrigation as buildings are built & renovated, the protection of this magical being is key to the locals & visitors alike. The park is administered by the Maui Parks & Recreation Department & maintained by the nonprofit organization Lahaina Restoration Foundation, with all town events being managed & held by the Lahaina Town Action Committee. As for the beloved banyan, it is cared for & nourished by the Maui County Arborist Committee.
Banyan trees were first brought to the islands of Hawaii in the 1800’s, this particular species is called a “root climber”. National Geographic calls banyan trees “the most venerated tree in Asia”, being native to India. While these gentle giants of green are captivating to the eye, they also possess not only spiritual & earthly culture, but also healing powers & historical relevance to many belief systems. Sacred in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, China & many other countries. According to stories passed down, it is believed that Buddha rested under a banyan tree & found enlightenment, leading to the creation of Buddhism, in which it represents “enlightenment”. In Hinduism the trees symbolize “fulfillment of wishes”, & it is believed that the leaves are the final resting place of the God Krishna. Representing immortality & eternal life, in the Philippines it is said that the banyan hosts spirits & demons alike. The Sanskrit term for these plants “bahupada” translates to “one with many feet”, directly displaying the massive trunk system that these trees become. Translated in the Indian language Gujarati, banyan means “merchant”, as the shelter of the endless canopy provides perfect shelter for vendors to sell goods. In Chinese traditions of the Lunar New Year, tying hand written wishes to the banyan branches gives hope & new possibilities.
It’s hard to believe that these banyan trees can provide even more than they already do for the eyes of the onlooker, but the parts & pieces have become useful for both medical & skin care uses. In Nepal, the sap is used to make conditioners for skin & hair, & the roots are used to treat bruises & inflammation. In Chinese medicine parts of the tree are said to aid in dental care, from preventing gum disease to making toothpaste. With the tree providing a cooling affect on skin of the body, its bark, sap & roots have been used to heal arthritic joints & even treat skin ulcers.
No Maui stay is complete with out a visit to the old banyan tree, whether seeking shade in the burning days sun or watching under the stars as the Mynah birds return home to their nests amongst the fig like fruits, making a spectacle of their loud coos. This tree provides a living relic of history, a connection to the earth as it quite literally roots itself down more & more over the years. In the book “Robinson Crusoe”, the shipwrecked man built his house in the branches & trunks of a banyan tree, a place he called home. For the town of Lahaina, home just wouldn’t be home with out this creature of nature.