Looking up into the Banyan tree at Lolani Palace. Photo: Ann Peavey via Trover
Banyan trees dwarf us with their vast, towering canopies and dangling vertical roots, which can be as large as tree trunks themselves. I felt like a ten-year old the first time I spied the giant Banyan imperiously tall inside the courtyard of the Royal Hawaiian hotel in Honolulu. Decades later the great tree is less royal and around the island the trees are threatened.
While the Royal Hawaiian hotel still retains its colonial grandeur, the tree has been closed in on one side by a shopping mall. Most of the vertical roots have been trimmed away from valuable real estate. Strings of lights and an electrical conduit snake up the trunk. Still, like a dowager queen, it stands tall if not the imperial monarch it once was.
Banyan trees have become synonymous with Hawaii, however they were first imported from India to Maui as a gift in the 1800’s to Sheriff William Owen Smith. He planted it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission to Lahaina. Today it’s the oldest Banyan tree in Hawaii.
Banyan tree reaching wide. Photo: Sabrina Gunn via Trover
In Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach Banyan trees still dot the landscape, although they’re sometimes hidden. You can visit the grand Banyan at the century-old Moana Surfrider Hotel
where visiting royalty and presidents have strolled beneath its branches. Slip in from the beach front or enter through the lobby to the Banyan Courtyard where guests often mingle at happy hour.
The most celebrated Banyan tree in Honolulu, a gift from Indian royalty, flourishes at the Iolani Palace. Once the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy, the National Historic Landmark still echoes from its past when King Klakaua and his family walked the opulent halls. The grounds are considered sacred to Hawaiians as an ancient heiau, place of worship. The remains of the King and his descendants were once buried beneath the large Banyan Tree. In 1865 the families remains were carried in a torchlight procession to a new Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu Valley.
Many Honolulu visitors encounter their first Banyan tree in the International Marketplace in downtown Waikiki. A bazaar full of sheds and walkways once snaked beneath the lofty tree’s branches and wandering roots for forty years. Today the Marketplace has been shuttered to make way for a new shopping mall. The tree remains and in fact is being carefully tended by arborist, Steve Nimz, who has looked after it since 1971 and is liberating its extensive roots from concrete as the new facility takes shape around it.
See the Banyan trees of Hawaii while you can
A small and more devastating threat than renovation has crept in to destroy the great trees. The State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture has deemed the entire island of Oahu infested with the Lobate Lac Scale, a tiny invasive pest. It’s attacking Banyans, Hibiscus and Koa plants and trees. Many Banyan trees are being removed to safeguard people from falling branches. It’s hoped the pests will be controlled eventually. Whatever the reason it’s a tragedy to lose even one of these great trees.
Where to visit the sacred Banyan trees of Oahu:
- Moana Hotel
- Iolani Palace
- Royal Hawaiian
- Ala Moana Beach Park
- Kawela Bay on Oahu’s North Shore – Made famous on the ‘Lost’ TV series
Written as part of the Hipmunk City Love Project.