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Symbol of Hope Emerges in Lahaina

Hawaiian town's scorched banyan tree sprouts new leaves after intensive treatment
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2023 11:40 AM CDT

Among a sea of brown, black, and gray, a hint of green in the scorched Maui town of Lahaina is cause for celebration. Locals have spotted new growth on the 150-year-old banyan tree that serves as a landmark at the center of the town largely destroyed in the Aug. 8 wildfire that killed at least 97 people. The so-called "heartbeat of Lahaina," a gift from India in 1873, is thought to be the largest banyan fig tree in the US and among the largest in the world. "Residents have gathered, feasted, and proposed marriage" under its limbs, covering almost an acre along Lahaina's Front Street, per the New York Times. But locals doubted whether the beloved tree would survive last month's scorching. Per the Times, its trunk looked "badly charred" and its leaves were "browned to a crisp."

Hope emerged about a week after the wildfire. Landscape contractor Chris Imonti spotted root growth and living microbes in the soil around the tree, which was "technically in major shock but was still alive," he tells the Times. Water tankers were brought in to deliver between 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of water to the tree each day for several days. Nutrients were also delivered in the form of a "compost tea" made up of worm castings, sea minerals, and kelp, the Times reports. After two treatments, "we saw a lot of new root growth," says Imonti. After the third, green shoots sprouted around the trunk and from branches. Arborist Timothy Griffith describes at least a dozen new shoots on aerial root props and main limbs, per the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

"That's when we got really, really excited," Imonti tells the Times. It symbolizes "hope, and maybe some normalcy down the line." The tree "represents the deep roots of this community," US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm noted last week, per the Guardian. "Even in the face of unspeakable heartache, its limbs reach outward and upward." However, the tree isn't in the clear yet. The new growth "just means that the tree is moving in the right direction," cautions Steve Nimz, a volunteer arborist working to save the banyan, per the Times. Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources has described the tree's new leaves as "positive signs for its long-term recovery." Last month, it quoted Imonti as saying of the tree, "As long as we give it enough love, I think it's going to be fine." (Read more Maui stories.)

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