150 Boise Icons: The Pittenger Sequoia

March 31, 2013 

The massive sequoia grows next to St. Luke's Hospital's Human Resources office on land that was once the estate of Alice and Fred Pittenger. Both Pittengers were doctors. Fred served as Idaho surgeon general. Alice became a champion of the Girl Scouts; a camp at Payette Lake still bears her name.

The tree began its Boise life as a cutting given to the Pittengers by forester and conservationist Emil Grandjean. The Pittengers' British gardener planted the cutting in 1912. It grew, even as Boise urbanized around it and the hospital campus expanded.

Alice died in 1953. Fred died in 1964. Crews moved their house to Caldwell. The sequoia remained.

St. Luke's began decorating the tree for Christmas in the 1980s. The tree began to deteriorate, dying back and dropping its needles. Experts determined that the decorations were doing the damage. St. Luke's stopped the holiday tradition. Hospital administrators called in a tree expert from California - native sequoia terrain -who recommended cutting 11 feet off the top of the tree to revive it.

The strategy worked. Arborists trained a "leader" branch toward the sky to replace the lost section. The result: a healthy tree with a shape resembling a Prussian helmet - or, better yet, the Idaho Capitol dome.

The Idaho Big Tree program, a division of a national program that catalogues the largest trees in the U.S., has recognized the sequoia at St. Luke's as the largest of its species in the state. It stands 89 feet tall. For comparison, the largest sequoia in the nation is in Sequoia National Park. That California tree stands 274 feet tall.

An impressive sequoia also grows on the grounds of North Junior High at Fort and 13th streets in Boise's North End.

- 190 E. Bannock St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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