I wouldn’t consider myself a tree hugger, but when I heard about the city’s plans to remove seven Chinese banyan trees from Ala Moana Beach Park, I’ll admit, I was a little bothered. Although banyans aren’t native to Hawaii, they do play an integral role in our outdoor island scene – as the source of shade for family picnics or a makeshift playground from which children swing on their vines. They can be found throughout most major parks – including Kapiolani Park in Honolulu – and along a famous road on the Big Island called Bayan Tree Drive.

Banyans are easily distinguished by their hanging roots.

But the big question is, “Why?” According to the city, the the trees have several “structural defects” and pose a threat to public safety. Officials don’t specify what type of defects nor do they say how much the removal will cost taxpayers. They do note that none of the trees is on the Exceptional Tree register. That’s good. But why remove the entire tree? Perhaps removing the damaged/defective part would suffice. Anything to save these beautiful trees, which – let’s be honest – gives the park its character. They’re visible from outside of the park, on Ala Moana Boulevard, and, of course, within – where dozens enjoy the cool shade they provide.

The removal starts today and is expected to finish Monday. They include the banyans along the main roadway and near the park entrance. The city did say that the trees will be replaced by other trees in a larger planting project of the near future. I’m guessing they probably won’t be planting any banyans though.

I’m mostly bothered because I used to be those kids you see climbing the banyans, swinging on their vines. Not that I have any specific attachment to a particular tree, but still. So many memories! And I’m sure I’m not the only one, as I’ve seen locals and visitors enjoying the banyans – whether for shade or for entertainment. Over the years, these very trees have watched the city evolve into what it is today; they’ve withstood hurricanes, witnessed the rapid development of urban Honolulu and made it into hundreds of photos visitors take back home with them. Removing them is like removing pieces of Hawaii’s history. Sadly, they have now become a part of history itself.

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