Aging Exceptionally

Recognition for Kaunakakai tree

You’re barking up the right tree if you always believed there was something special about the large banyan behind the Molokai Community Health Center (MCHC), former site of the Pau Hana Inn. This spreading beauty is listed in Maui County’s record of exceptional trees — one of 27 listings in the county and the only one on Molokai, according to county arborist David Sakoda.

Kaunakakai banyan tree. Photo by Catherine Cluett

The banyan has been a landmark in the community for over 100 years. Planted sometime in the late 1800s, according to the Community Health Center’s Cyrus Ciu, the tree’s broad trunk and smooth, upturned branches have offered shade and protection to generations of Molokai residents. Of the ficus species,the banyan behind MCHC spreads 135 feet at its crown, with a height of 60 feet, according to county records.

And because it is listed as an “exceptional tree,” the banyan is protected from destruction or removal, so it can remain for future generations to enjoy.

“It [is] an unusually large and well-formed specimen that was prominently located in a very public location in the community,” said Robert Hobdy, chair of the Maui County Arborist Committee. One of the committee’s responsibilities is to recommend trees for inclusion on the exceptional list, which are then approved by the Maui County Council, said Sakoda.

Hobdy said the Molokai banyan was nominated for the recognition by a community member. Sakoda said he believes the tree was one of the original specimens recognized on the first edition of the exceptional list in 1991.

According to the state ordinance identifying exceptional trees, trees on the list can be a tree or stand or grove of trees, with historic or cultural value, or noted for their age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality, or endemic status. Other species of exceptional trees in the county include monkey pod, kou, royal palm, true kamani, `ohe and others.

Property owners where exceptional trees are located get some tax relief on their property taxes, said Hobdy. The trees are inspected regularly by county arborists.

Sakoda said community members can recommend notable trees for inclusion on the list. To do so, contact the county Department of Parks and Recreation at 808-270-7230 or by mail, Dept. of Parks and Rec, attention Arborist Committee, 700 Halia Nakoa St., War Memorial Complex, Wailuku, HI 96793.


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