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 tiny kid again the first time I spied a giant Banyan standing imperiously tall inside the courtyard of the Royal Hawaiian hotel in Honolulu. Decades later the great tree still stands but it’s less royal and around the island the trees are threatened.
The Royal Hawaiian hotel still retains its colonial grandeur but 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.
Hawaii’s Banyan trees have become synonymous with the state, however they were first imported from India to Maui as a gift in the 1800’s to Sheriff William Owen Smith. He planted one to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission to Lahaina. Today it’s the oldest surviving Banyan tree in Hawaii.
Banyan tree reaching wide. Photo: Sabrina Gunn via Trover
In 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, which is a registered National Historic Landmark. Once the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy, the Landmark still echoes 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 family remains were carried in a torchlight procession to a new Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu Valley.
Looking up into the Banyan tree at Lolani Palace. Photo: Ann Peavey via Trover
Many Honolulu visitors encounter their first Banyan tree in the International Marketplace in downtown Waikiki. For 40 years a bazaar full of sheds and walkways snaked beneath the lofty tree’s branches and wandering roots. The open-air shopping center first opened in 1956 as a commercial, retail and entertainment center. After closing for complete renovation in 2013, the International Market Place reopened on August 25, 2016. Today the Marketplace thrives as 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 took shape around it.
Giant Banyan Tree over the new Honolulu International Marketplace. Photo by Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA – International Marketplace – Waikiki, CC BY 2.0
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 as well as 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 giants 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
I first saw the beautiful Banyan tree when I was assigned to the Hawaiian Armed Service Police in 1967 . I hope many things can be done to save all the Banyan trees so they can be seen and enjoyed for many years to come .
I am “rooting” for Hawaii’s Banyan trees. I do hope they prevail. And I do remember the magnificent one in the International Marketplace in Waikiki.
Thanks, Carole, I’m with you and hoping this pest is outdone soon.
That is sad. I love banyan trees and am glad I do see them on prior visits. So, is Maui and Kauai free of the pest, for now?
As far as I know it looks like only Oahu is having this problem. I’m with you and hoping the pests don’t spread to the other islands.
I loved seeing the banyan tree at Iolani Palace. Next time in Honolulu, I’ll have to scout out the others you mentioned. I hope they can be saved from further natural and man-made devastation.
Glad to hear you saw the tree at the Iolani Palace. I think progress is being made on saving the trees.
I have never been to Hawaii and have never seen the Banyan trees, but they look magnificent in your photos. I hope I get to Hawaii and see them before they are destroyed. I hope they find a way to save them.
With so much attention on saving the trees I’m certain a solution will be found before too many are lost. Staying positive.
We have them here in Bali too Elaine; impressive trees! Like in Hawaii, encroachment is threatening these majestic trees. We saw 3 developments – HUGE ones – being built within the past few weeks in a prior quiet, largely undeveloped area of Jimbaran, up in the hills. More and more trees, gone, and more sprawl. Yuck. Hoping they get rid of those little pests and people work to preserve the beauty in the Banyan.
I hope to see your trees in Bali one day. Hopefully they’ll reserve the older trees for posterity.
These trees really look like if they were coming out of a fairy tale, absolutely beautiful! Just as you say, it would be horrible to lose even one of them. It is great that you call people’s attention to their endangered situation!
Thanks, Gabor. I”m hoping that all the different agencies working to eradicate the pests will be successful.
I’d never heard of these trees before. They are quite impressive!
There’s nothing quite like standing beneath a Banyan’s branches.
I love banyan trees! We have a few in Bangladesh, I find them super special..would love to visit here, hopefully someday soon 🙂
They were a gift from Indian Royalty to Hawaii so I’m not surprised to hear that you’ve seen them in Bangladesh.
I love the Banyan trees of the Hawaiian islands and have always been awed by their size, apparent invincibility and sheer majesty. How sad to think that invasive pests as well as human disregard can threaten these iconic symbols of Hawaii.
The pests are being eradicated slowly. The human element is coming around as with the International Market. The marketplace was torn down to make room for the new development but the tree has been given new attention and regard as a centerpiece.
What beautiful trees! Are Banyans found in other parts of the continental U.S.?
I think there are some Banyan trees in the Southern, hotter states especially in Florida.
That’s such a terrible shame about the pest killing the banyan trees… Pine beetles have destroyed a lot of the forests around us in British Columbia and Alberta.
Things go in cycles with pests and I’m sure some of the trees will develop a resistance over time.
Oh God! Those look so pretty! I wish you had some more photos.
Thanks, Fabiana, the trees are truly magnificent. I hope you can see them for yourself soon too.
The Hawaiian Banyan trees are so astounding. I had not realized the danger they are in. Here’s hoping these giants are present for centuries to come.
I’m with you and hoping there’s a solution soon.
those are some beautiful trees. It is a shame they would have to even touch one because of what is going on. Hopefully they figure an alternative out.
I trust they’ll find a way to eradicate the pests but hope it’s before too many of the big trees fall.
I love banyan trees! We’re lucky to have a lot of them in Florida. I’ve seen a lot of wedding photos taken in them, they’re so lovely.
I love big trees but the Banyans really touch me. Looking forward to seeing your Florida Banyans when I’m there next fall.