Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Portion of palace banyan tree breaks off

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

A portion of a historic banyan tree that was planted on 'Iolani Palace grounds when the palace opened in the 1880s came crashing down late Friday afternoon.

'Iolani Palace staff on Friday said loud cracking noises came from the trunk of this banyan tree 2 hours before part of it gave way.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

The tree was one of two believed to have been planted by Queen Kapi'olani between 1882, when the palace opened, and 1886, said palace curator Stuart Ching. Roots from the two trees established themselves and eventually grew into a cluster of seven trees, he said.

But at about 2:45 Friday afternoon, palace security manager Johnny Rouse was told that something was wrong with one of the trees.

"There was a series of very loud 'crack-pop' sounds within the trunk and a split had started developing up from the ground," Rouse said.

Rouse said there were people sitting under the tree and security personnel cleared them out. Shortly after 5 p.m., about a quarter of the 70-foot tree crashed to the ground.

"They hadn't been gone for more than 10 minutes when the tree went. When it went it was a loud crack and it came straight down," Rouse said. He said the strong winds may have played a part in the tree coming down.

No one was injured and there was only minor damage to a state truck, he said.

Mary Steiner, chief executive officer of the Outdoor Circle, said she was saddened by the damage to the tree, especially since she said the incident could have been prevented.

Steiner said the mayor's arborist advisory committee inspected the tree about a month ago and found cracks and decay in the trunk. The committee notified the Department of Accounting and General Services, which maintains palace grounds, but Steiner said nothing was done.

"Probably the wind and weather were factors and probably didn't help. But the tree clearly had cracks and other defects that needed to be taken care of that weren't," Steiner said.

She said she believes the remaining portion of the tree can be saved, but the state needs to act soon.

Maintenance work had been scheduled for the banyan tree on the 'Iolani Palace grounds. A large portion of the tree broke off on Friday.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

State Comptroller Russ Saito said the state did inspect the tree after the concerns were raised and found some termite damage. He said his department did schedule maintenance work, but the work had not been done as of Friday.

But Saito said he believes the wind had more to do with the tree falling than the termite damage.

"I can tell you that that part of the tree is the part that's still standing. So even though it is an issue and we will be accelerating the treatment, that part of the tree is still standing so it's not an issue, relative to the part that came down," he said.

A contractor will begin to remove the debris today and Saito said the state will consult experts to see if the remaining portion of the tree can be saved and what can be done to preserve the other trees. He said one solution would be to cut back some of the canopy and lessen the load on the trees.

Kimberly Hillebrand, Outdoor Circle arborist, said the state must develop a maintenance plan and stick with it. She added that the state also must allow the aerial roots from the trees to take root.

These roots, she said, provide stability to the trees and also grow into new trees. But Hillebrand said the roots aren't being allowed to establish themselves because they would take root in the palace's parking lot.

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.