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Kids can’t resist it, and adults never regret doing it – there’s something quite liberating about swinging to and fro on those hanging banyan tree roots. And although they’re not native to our islands, they’re definitely an appealing part of our landscape and history.
A giant banyan near the aquarium is one of many throughout Kapiolani Park.
You’ll see them on almost every island in parks or along roadways. They can grow to be 100-feet tall and spread over several acres by way of birds and prop roots. (You know, those roots people swing from?) They’re actually making their way to the ground so that they can grow into thick woody trunks. Sometimes they get so thick that it’s difficult to distinguish them from the main trunk.
And along with each Hawaii banyan comes a significant story planted into their budding roots. Take, for example, Kapiolani Park; you might stroll through or rest under the cool shade of the banyans, but did you know that they’re almost as old as the park itself? The banyans come from China and India. And while they boast more than 100 years, they continue to serve as the growing foundation of the park itself. Be on the look out for more banyans along Waikiki, particularly at the International Marketplace.
A trip to the Big Island isn’t complete without a cruise down Banyan Tree Drive. A street lined with banyans characterize Hilo’s shoreline near the airport. Many call this the “Hilo Walk of Fame” because celebrities have been helping to plant the 50-plus banyans since the 1930s. They include former presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, baseball player Babe Ruth, pilot Amelia Earhart and many other politicians, religious leaders and movie stars.
Instead of underground, banyan’s roots grow above before connecting with the soil and growing into thick trunks.
A particular banyan in Lahaina, Maui has also become a part of Hawaii history when it was planted in the 1870s for the 50th anniversary of Christian missionary work. Imported from India, the tree stood at a mere eight feet, but today, it’s nearly 60 feet tall with 12 major trunks…and still growing!
Banyans continue to flourish in the islands as a living piece of history. But perhaps one you might not see as easily is the tree that Hawaiians believed to grow on the moon. As the story goes, Hawaiian goddess Hina fashioned the finest kapa cloth out of banyan tree bark, and did so on the moon, where she found it to be quite pleasant. (Mahina means moon in Hawaiian). The dark regions of the moon are said to be the banyan tree from which Hina makes kapa. The clear space is where a branch once grew but fell to Earth and took root, growing into the first tree of its kind.