Giant Sequoia Behind St. Luke's Prepares For Historic Move

Oct 17, 2016

The Giant Sequoia in downtown Boise has a fascinating history.
Credit St. Luke's

When you think of Giant Sequoia trees, you may think California before you think Boise. But Idaho’s largest Giant Sequoia, with its complicated history, is about to be moved from behind St. Luke’s Hospital downtown.

The 98-foot-tall tree is more than 20 feet around. The tree began life as a tiny cutting given to Dr. Fred Pittenger and planted next to his house around 1912.

It grew, and grew, as St. Luke’s and the city grew too. But it almost perished in the 1980s, smothered by the holiday spirit of the community.

In 1984, St. Luke’s turned the sequoia into “Boise’s Christmas Tree.” It began decorating the tree with thousands of lights and a grand display under the tree. Residents came for two weeks each year to sing Christmas carols and get into the holiday spirit.

The website Monumentaltrees.com says the hospital took precautions to keep the tree from getting sick. St. Luke’s checked with a local horticultural company for the first two years, to make sure the tree was healthy and the lights wouldn’t hurt it. But the tree started to decline. The hospital worked to save it, taking out asphalt around the tree and other greenery nearby. Finally, after Christmas 1987, the tree was so sick, St. Luke’s decided to cancel future Christmas celebrations, in order to save the tree.

Two years passed, and the tree got worse. Tree experts from the Mayne Tree Expert Company in California gave the tree a check-up and wrote a prescription. Chop off the top 11 feet of the tree, which was dying, and bend a “leader” branch towards the sky to replace it. It worked and the tree is healthy now, though a little less symmetrical than in its youth.

Credit St. Luke's

Now the sequoia faces a new challenge. St. Luke’s is expanding and the tree is in the middle of that expansion. Rather than cut it down, the hospital has put together a massive plan to relocate the historic tree.

St. Luke’s has hired a company to move the tree. Starting Wednesday, Environmental Design Inc. will start pruning the tree’s roots and stop future growth. In the spring, the company will tunnel beneath the tree. Using steel pipe and air bags, the tree will slowly be lifted out of its home behind the hospital. Then it will be towed to a new location. St. Luke’s is working with tree experts to find the best spot for the tree in Fort Boise Park.

St. Luke’s says don’t worry, they’re planning to take “big steps,” to relocate the tree.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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