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Lahaina banyan tree emerges as charred but still standing in sign of hope, locals say

“Banyan Tree in Lahaina smoldering at the base, but still standing," Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz said.
Historic Banyan tree surrounded by burned cars in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Aug. 10, 2023.
Banyan tree surrounded by burned cars in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Aug. 10, 2023.Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images

A large banyan tree in the heart of Old Lahaina that was badly scorched by the fires that ransacked Maui appears to have emerged from the flames still standing.

In the aftermath of the devastating fires, residents are looking to the tree as a symbol of the devastation — and hope.

The banyan tree was just an 8-feet sapling when it was planted in 1873 as a gift shipped from India, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, which at the time was Hawaii's capital.

Its sprawling branches — some stretching more than 60-feet — provided shade to many generations there.

John-Mario Sevilla, 60, grew up in Maui and would often visit Lahaina with his family. He previously told NBC News he remembers sitting in church as the ocean breeze blew in through the open windows, and watching the traditional dancing under the banyan tree.

After large flames raced through the island of Maui this week, much of Lahaina, the historic city on the west side of the island and home to over 12,000 residents, was destroyed, displacing hundreds of families. 

Among the damage was the historic tree that marked the place where King Kamehameha’s first palace stood.

In the tail end of the fires, photos of the burned but standing tree were posted online, which some saying it denotes the resilience of Hawaii and its residents.

“Banyan Tree in Lahaina smoldering at the base, but still standing. Just about the only thing left, other than the Lighthouse,” Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, on Thursday.

Maui officials posted updates of the tree on the evening of Aug. 10, saying that “it’s said that if the roots are healthy, it will likely grow back, but it looks burned.”

Other residents of Hawaii took to the platform to share their memories surrounding the tree.

“I was talking to a journalist about the Banyan Tree today. I told her: ‘The tree is probably burned just as everything is in Lahaina, but fire cannot reach its roots,’” a user who goes by the handle @HawaiiDelilah wrote in a post on X. “The Banyan Tree embodies the deep & resilient spirit of Lahaina, made for renewal. That’s our ethos in Maui.”

“There is nothing that has made me cry more today than the thought of the Banyan Tree in my hometown of Lahaina,” she wrote in another post on X. “We will rebuild. And the natural beauty of Maui will be forever.”

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the federal disaster response will ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately.”