Human Flower Project

Nixon’s Strangler Fig

Hilo, Hawaii, has used invitation-only plantings of banyan trees to draw visitors to its black beaches.


In 1952 a young California Senator, Richard Nixon, planted a banyan tree along Hilo, Hawaii’s “Hall of Fame.”

Photo: Jim Branscome

What will the Chamber of Commerce think of next?

To be precise, it was the park commissioners of Hilo, Hawaii, who in 1933 came up with a botanical gimmick to draw more tourists to this side of the Big Island: “The Hilo Hall of Fame.”

With movie director Cecil B. DeMille in Hilo filming “Four Frightened People” (terrific title!), local officials struck on the idea of having celebrities plant banyan trees along the Waiakea Peninsula. Heck with handprints in the sidewalk. The Hilo fathers could promise a living tribute, something with scale and height.


“Throughout the years celebrities in all walks of life have planted small banyan saplings to have them grow into the giant memorials that still stand in their honor,” declares a boosterish entry on wiki. “These trees have withstood natural disasters such as the several tsunamis that have devastated the town of Hilo.”

Actually, the tree then-Senator Richard Nixon of California planted in 1952 (pictured above) was destroyed in an “election year storm.” He ran lots of times so we’re not sure which storm/which year. His wife Pat returned to Hilo in 1972, the year of his presidential re-election, and planted two banyans, one replacing his senatorial specimen and another in her own honor. She may not have had a mink coat, but…!


First Lady Pat Nixon accepts the key to the city of Hilo (before planting two banyans) August 1972

Photo: National Archives, via wiki

Ficus benghalensis is a specatular epiphyte, sprouting in some cavity of another tree, wrapping viney branches around its host (thus its unflattering nickname, “strangler fig”), and proceeding upward and outward. What a perfect arboreal emblem for the famous! The 19th century banyan tree “in Lahaina’s Courthouse Square in Hawai’i … has now grown to cover two-thirds of an acre.”

Other notables who’ve planted banyans along Hilo’s “strangler” circuit include Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, President Franklin Roosevelt, and several religious leaders. More local “notables” have also been invited to plant trees here on Hawaii’s Arbor Day – celebrated the first Friday of November (presumably June’s too hot for tree planting in the islands).


Sharen Branscome before the James McCandless banyan along Hilo’s arboreal “Hall of Fame”; McCandless was a major early player in Hawaii’s sugar industry.

Photo: Jim Branscome

We would never have known of this human-banyan project except world traveler Jim Branscome kindly notified us, sending these photos from Hilo via an expensive Internet connection.

Mahalo, Jim and Sharen!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/25 at 11:17 PM


Where is Obama’s banyan?  He has strong ties to Hawaii after all.

Posted by Georgia on 02/28 at 10:37 PM
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