Tree Stories: The Magnificent Banyan of Waikiki

“What’s your favorite tree?”  Several trees come to mind including our own Feijoa sellowiana (pineapple guava), but I’ve had this banyan tree in my mind for almost three years since my 2010 business trip to the Westin Moana Surfrider in Waikiki Beach, Oahu. Planted as a seven foot infant in 1904, this tree now canopies the entire ocean-facing courtyard. It begs the question to the original designer, Oliver G. Traphagen: Did he ever imagine this tree would become the heart and soul of this hotel experience? It is rare to find a hotel that has been literally taken over by a tree. Perhaps over 100 years of listening in on hotel visitors and locals over dinner and cocktails has shaped this tree into a magnificence only experienced in person.

This banyan’s multiple trunks, sprawling branches and aerial prop roots scroll down and listen in like microphones on the bar and dining areas of the courtyard. The tree is now over 75 feet high and over 150 feet wide.

Aerial prop roots listen in and form additional support trunks.

The Indian banyan, or Ficus benghalensis, is a sacred tree in the Hindu religion, a provider of shelter for travelers and temples, the national tree of India. It’s an epiphyte that begins its life as a seed in the crevice of another tree, dropping down its roots and taking over.

The groom looks back at the courtyard banyan, while his bride gets a head start.

The Moana Surfrider lobby is literally a turnstyle for Japanese wedding photoshoots!  Over a period of two days I witnessed a parade of 20-plus bride and groom photo sessions in the lobby. The banyan was always in sight, outstretching its branches approvingly. Is love the epiphyte of humanity?

The banyan looms as the backdrop throughout hotel.

The tree was visible from almost every common area of the hotel. After I found a place to set up my laptop, the banyan oversaw me prepping for a shipcheck, a ship overhaul that would begin later that year.

Setting up a workspace beneath the banyan.

On my helicopter flight out to the ship, it was hard to miss this majestic fig for one last goodbye along Waikiki Beach.

The banyan tree (left) takes over prime real estate on Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii.  In 1901, the Moana was the first hotel built on the strip.

So in the end, the ship overhaul was a success, and the banyan probably grew a little more.

Final destination.

It wasn’t until I came home and popped the flashcard into my computer that I realized I’ve never taken so many photos of a single tree.  I leave you with the rest, scroll down like an epiphyte. – RB

Browse, shoot and share Ficus benghalensis (indian banyan) in the Community Garden

Truly an exceptional tree.

View from the balcony.


The banyan tree is the national tree of India.

I see eyes

Bird lodging – no vacancy