As Hawaii recovers from the devastating wildfires, which left at least 97 dead and caused vast damage, hope emerges as Lahaina's historic banyan tree, which was scorched during the disaster, began to sprout new leaves.
Video footage shared by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) on September 13 showed fresh, green leaves sprouting from the tree’s branches.
The survival of the tree has become a symbol of hope for the fire-ravaged town, officials told Hawaii News Now.
County arborist Timothy Griffith told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that he noted at least a dozen new shoots on both the aerial root props and main limbs anywhere from six to 20 feet up in the tree.
Griffith said that it was a "welcome sight" and that he hopes it is the beginning of more to come.
'In a coma'
Volunteers, arborists and experts had gathered in the aftermath of the fires to keep its iconic banyan tree alive.
Arborist Steve Nimz, who is part of the effort to restore the tree, explained to USA TODAY that the lower trunks had living tissue under the bark, which is a good sign. The leaves and twigs on the major branches of tree, however, have all been burnt and are no longer viable.
The team of experts comprised of arborists and landscapers came together to put a plan in action, said Nimz, which included bringing water in from a mile away to shoot onto the tree from the top of large water trucks. After removing ash and providing moisture from these water cannons, water was also introduced to the ground beneath the tree.
The team also focused on the soil the tree lives in, making a compost mixture of organic matter to provide nutrients and stimulate growth in the tree's roots.
"[The tree] is kind of in a coma," Nimz told USA TODAY. "So, it's just like when you're in a coma, they give you intravenous fluids in your veins and they keep your vital signs going until they see you blink or move a finger or something. So, we're doing the same thing with the tree."
Nimz had said that the team is closely monitoring the tree for signs of that "blink," which could be a new, green bud popping up or an indication from the sensors they've installed that movement, such as sap traveling or expansion or contraction in the trunk.
What is the Lahaina banyan tree?
A beloved landmark in Lahaina, the 60-foot tall Indian banyan tree spans 1.94 acres in length and shades nearly two-thirds of an acre, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Its branches have witnessed love and loss with weddings, vow renewals, honeymoon photos and funerals taking place under its warmth and shade.
It was planted as a sapling in 1873 after being imported from India to honor the 50th anniversary of the first protestant missionaries to arrive in the area, started at the request of Queen Keopuolani.
The tree, which turned 150 years old in April, is the largest banyan tree in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world, according to the official Lahaina website. Also home to hundreds of mynah birds, the tree is known as “the heartbeat of Lahaina Town" and sits in Lahaina Banyan Court Park, which was impacted by the fires.
While the banyan tree was lucky enough to survive, many historic landmarks such as the 200-year-old Waiola Church were unable to survive the flames and burnt down.
The Lahaina fire is the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century. Caught in a hellscape, some residents died in their cars, while others jumped into the ocean or tried to run for safety. The Aug. 8 blaze reduced much of the historic town to ash.
Lahaina, the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1962 for its cultural and historical significance.
'Burned down to ashes': Why devastated Lahaina Town is such a cherished place on Maui
Contributing: Mary Walrath-Holdridge, USA TODAY
Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @saman_shafiq7.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Maui banyan tree update: New leaves sprout after Lahaina fire damage