Boise Relics, Curiosities, and Collections

Idaho's Largest Sequoia Tree - Don't Pinch the Tip (Again)

Am I the only person who thought giant sequoia trees only grew in California alongside the redwood trees and medical marijuana fields? Surely not. But after discovering that there is indeed an impressive giant sequoia growing in Boise, it's time we all sit down and get ourselves a little tree education.

As it turns out, it's true that giant sequoias and giant redwoods only occur naturally in California. However, unlike the famous redwood trees, which only grow in a very specialized microclimate along the cool, misty coast of Northern California, our friend the giant sequoia's native range is the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. So it's not much of a stretch, given its winter hardiness, that a sequoia could grow in Boise if given supplemental irrigation during the growing season.

The proof of this is on the campus of St. Luke's Hospital in Downtown Boise. In fact, if you've ever driven on Fort Street behind the hospital, you've probably seen this tree and not realized what it was. To be honest, from a distance it looks just like a lot of other evergreen trees in this area, so it's not surprising that it manages to stay in everyone's peripheral vision, hiding in plain sight.

The tree, which started as a cutting taken from a tree in California, was planted in 1912 by Dr. Fred Pittenger. Well, actually the cutting was planted and cared for by Pittenger's British gardener. This makes quite a bit of sense, really, because with all the bloodletting, biopsies, and breast exams, no doctor has ever had enough time for an all-consuming hobby such as gardening, and if you're going to pay a gardener, you should at least get one with a smashing accent.

The result is that, nearly a hundred years later, the sequoia on the former doctor's property is now over 27 meters (88 feet) tall and has a girth of over 5.5 meters (18 feet).

The tree would've been about eleven feet taller, but when the folks from the hospital started using the sequoia as a Christmas tree for a few years back in the mid-1980s, all the string lights and soil compaction actually started to kill the tree from the top down. However, after amputating the dead top and removing some turf, asphalt, and other nasty substances covering the tree's roots, the tree was saved. At the top, a side branch was trained to replace the growing tip that had been killed, and although it has worked to a great degree, it still looks as though there is a vegetative nipple on the top of the tree. You stay classy, giant sequoia.

Hopefully the city life won't prove again to be too harmful to Idaho's largest giant sequoia tree. In their native range, the sequoia can live up to 3200 years, which would mean this tree would be on its last legs about, oh, the year 5112. By then, it's a safe bet that even Abe Vigoda will have kicked the bucket.

Relic, Curiosity, or Collection: Idaho's Largest Sequoia Tree
Where: On the north side of the St. Luke's Downtown campus, in between Jefferson and Fort Streets

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Hours: Dawn to dusk, year round
Cost: Free
Website: None
Fun fact: This is the only California transplant that nobody in Boise hates.