The history of the banyan tree in Hawaii, albeit relatively brief, is full of interesting anecdotes and stories involving some of the most significant historical figures of the modern age.

And although the banyan tree has become a common feature of Hawaii’s landscape, it is not native to the islands. Their canopies are vast, and seem to drip roots to the ground below. Kids love to swing from those roots, and to climb among nooks and crannies of intricately intertwined trunks.

The first such tree in Hawaii was the now-famous Lahaina Banyan planted on Maui in April, 1873. The banyan is native to India, and the Lahaina Banyan was presented to Maui Sherriff William Owen Smith by missionaries from India. He planted it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission to Lahaina. The Lahaina Banyan is now the oldest banyan in Hawaii, and one of the oldest in the United States.

The Lahaina Banyan has since grown to over 40 feet tall, with its canopy’s circumference spanning a quarter-mile. Although it has been faced threats to its health, measures were taken to protect and preserve the tree in 2000. It remains home to hundreds of mynah birds, who fill the area with a chattering din each day at sunset.
Banyan Tree Drive in Hilo on the Big Island has dozens of stories of major historical figures visiting and planting a tree there. The trees were first planted in 1933, when city officials thought it would be a good idea to have celebrities in Hilo filming Cecil B. DeMille’s “Four Frightened People” plant trees in the area. The drive was built in 1934, prompted by a visit by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who also planted a tree. Many other famous figures have their names on placards beneath the trees they planted. Amelia Earhart, Richard Nixon, and Louis Armstrong are among the honorees of Banyan Drive.

Because of Baynan Drive’s location on the Hilo coastline, some trees were lost to tsunamis that devastated Hilo. Remarkably, however, 50 of the expansive trees remain.

Near Kawela Bay on Oahu’s North Shore is a banyan tree that has gained more recent attention as a featured location on the cult-favorite “Lost” television show. But Oahu also is home to banyan trees of a weightier historical provenance. The banyan tree at Iolani Palace was a gift from Indian royalty to King Kalakaua, who began construction of the palace in 1882. It is believed that it was planted by Queen Lili’oukalani, who would ultimately be overthrown and imprisoned at the palace.

Another famous Oahu banyan tree is the majestic giant at the historic Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach. Planted in 1904, the tree now reaches 75 feet high and 150 feet across. It is a dominating feature of Waikiki’s oldest hotel. Nearby, both inside and outside the Honolulu Zoo is a cluster of towering banyan trees, filled most days with almost as many giggling children as chirping birds. Along the popular Manoa Falls Hiking Trail is another large banyan tree, believed by some to be haunted, stand in a path taken by “Night Marchers,” or the spirits of fallen Hawaiian warriors.

Although the banyan is an alien species, it has managed to find a comfortable home in Hawaii, and is now woven into the fabric of modern Hawaii’s history and landscape. And they’re nice to look at.


  1. Funny timing…i just walked by the iolani palace tree during coffee break and awed at how big the canopy is then came back to work to see this post. Banyan trees always have the same funky smell but at least nice they dont drop all those pesky monkey pod seed pods…those hurt while playing touch football in your bare feet. 🙂

  2. In 1961 I was on Shore leave from USS Lansing DER 388 in Pearl Harbor for 10 days and as being new to the US Navy I did’t have a lot of money. Soo I slept in one of the Banyon trees near the YMCA. I have gotten used to sleep in a moving bunk and usually slept with my arm around a post. I eat Bananas, Coconuts and Pineapples It was the cheepest Shore Leave I had. Hawaii was Buteful (at 72 my spelling is not good)

  3. There is also a large banyan tree on the Punahou campus that has served as a play structure for elementary school children since 1952. It is located on Barwick Playground which is currently under reconstruction. The tree was quite large when the playground opened, certainly at least three stories tall then and now. It had the aerial roots then indicating maturity. I don’t know how old it is but, given the missionary roots of the Lahaina Banyan, I wonder if there is a tie between the trees.

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