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Saturday, August 12, 2023

Age old Banyan tree threatened at Hawaii

Chennaites very well know this landmark – ‘Adyaru-aalamaram’ – a grand old Banyan tree at Adyar.   This famous tree is inside the Theosophical Society campus.The tree is around 450 years old – the tree and its off-shoots occupy around 40,000 square feet. The tree has outlived many and has survived literally many a storms.

A banyan, is a fig that develops accessory trunks from adventitious prop roots, allowing the tree to spread outwards indefinitely.This distinguishes banyans from other trees with a strangler habit that begin life as an epiphyte, i.e. a plant that grows on another plant, when its seed germinates in a crack or crevice of a host tree or edifice. "Banyan" often specifically denotes Ficus benghalensis (the "Indian banyan"), which is the national tree of India.

Lahaina is in Maui County, Hawaii, United States, and includes the Kaanapali and Kapalua beach resorts. As Lahaina sits on Maui, a relatively small island with limited developable area, its real estate is some of the most expensive in Hawaii – it is in news for wrong reasons!

Unprecedented wildfires burning on the Hawaiian island of Maui have displaced thousands of residents, destroyed parts of a centuries-old town, and killed at least 53 people.The disaster is one of the deadliest US wildfires in recent years.The fires appear to have burned first in vegetation and then rapidly spread into populated areas as wind gusts of over 60mph rocked the island. The conflagration swept into coastal Lahaina with alarming speed and ferocity, blazing through intersections and leaping across wooden buildings in a town center that dates to the 1700s and is on the National Register of Historic Places.Residents raced on to crowded roads, some of which were blocked with flaming debris. The US Coast Guard on Tuesday rescued 14 people, including two children, who had jumped into the water to escape.

The cause of the fires has not been determined but they broke out as the island faced strong winds and low humidity that the National Weather Service had warned would bring high fire danger with the risk of rapid spread.The fast-moving fires, fanned by the winds of a distant hurricane, exploded overnight and moved so quickly that some residents jumped into the ocean to escape the flames and smoke. Crews are continuing to battle the fires, which have burnt through multiple neighborhoods, including the historic town of Lahaina.

The devastating wildfires on Hawaii's Big Island and Maui are known to have killed 36 and may have claimed another casualty in the island's historic banyan tree.The 150-year-old tree in Lahaina town was scorched as wildfires ripped through the area. Lahaina’s banyan, near the town's historic courthouse building, is known as the oldest living banyan tree in the US. The tree was imported from India and planted in front of the courthouse in 1873 at just 8 feet tall. It now stands at over 60 feet tall with 47 major trunks, and spans nearly two acres, according to the Lahaina Town website.

The historic tree remains standing amid the carnage but appears badly burnt.  Both the tree and the courthouse have been severely damaged.  The tree remains sanding with people speculating that ‘only time’ will reveal whether it will survive.

The tree is a member of the fig tree family and its aerial roots drape towards the ground, which allow the tree to grow vertically and horizontally.It is also host to hundreds of mynah birds, which were introduced to Hawaii in 1865 to control army worms. The fires hit Lahaina, the 'decimated' town where some 271 buildings have been destroyed by the blaze which has ravaged 800 hectares of land. Officials are nervously awaiting a presidential declaration of emergency - as the state estimates it will be facing billions of dollars of structural damage. 

Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was a hub of history and culture on the island.Now, hundreds of people living  there are homeless and countless relics have been destroyed.While the exact source of the fires remains unknown, they began on Tuesday fueled by strong winds from the passing Hurricane Dora. Low humidity and a prolonged drought season which dried trees also contributed to the disaster, according to officials.Some 11,000 people flew out of Maui  and another 1,500 are expected to leave  if they can.

In Lahaina, the focus of activity is along Front Street, which dates back to the 1820s. It is lined with stores and restaurants and often packed with tourists. The Banyan Court Park features an exceptionally large banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) planted by William Owen Smith on April 24, 1873, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries. Smith,  had received it as a gift from missionaries in India.

Before concluding the Great Banyan, the biggest of them all, is located in the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical garden in Howrah,  Kolkata. The entire garden is actually one tree that spans 3.5 acres and is over 80 feet tall, making it one the natural marvels of the world.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
11th Aug 2023. 

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