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Experts are fighting to keep Boise’s transplanted sequoia alive. Are they succeeding?

What about the brown needles on the sequoia?

City forester Brian Jorgenson is optimistic that Idaho's oldest sequoia tree, which had to be moved for St. Luke's expansion, will survive despite its swaths of brown needles. He's checking on it daily.
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City forester Brian Jorgenson is optimistic that Idaho's oldest sequoia tree, which had to be moved for St. Luke's expansion, will survive despite its swaths of brown needles. He's checking on it daily.

Arguably Boise’s most famous tree, Idaho’s largest sequoia tree has settled into its new home.

Crews moved the 98-foot century-old sequoia at the end of June from the front of St. Luke’s Medical Center to make way for St. Luke’s Health System’s expansion. Now, the tree resides in a grassy shoulder at Fort Boise Park on Fort Street.

A fleet of caretakers is working hard to keep it alive, said Anita Kissee, a St. Luke’s spokeswoman.

They include Boise City Forester Brian Jorgensen, Boise Parks and Recreation, the St. Luke’s groundskeeping team, Boise’s Cutting Edge Landscape, and Environmental Design Inc., the Texas company that moved the sequoia and specializes in moving big trees.

Jorgensen told the Statesman that he checks the tree at least once a day. He keeps tabs on four monitoring stations that gauge the moisture in the soil around the tree.

His verdict so far? “I am cautiously hopeful.”

With St. Luke's Boise Medical Center expanding, the huge sequoia that many East Boise residents are used to seeing on hospital property was transplanted in the park across the street. Here's how and why.

It’s too early to know for sure about the health of the tree, he said, but he’s heartened that it does not appear to be losing needles.

Moving the sequoia during the hottest season of the year — a necessity because of the hospital’s building schedule — was unfortunate, he said.

But the tree has its own irrigation system, including a hose running up the trunk that sprays water high in the tree’s branches to keep its foliage moist. That effort is more than a little challenging during Boise’s current wave of 90-plus-degree days, for which forecasters have no end in sight.

The brown needles on some parts of the tree are the result of normal winter die back, Jorgensen said. They can give the wrong impression.

During his daily checks, he fields frequent comments from drivers and other passers-by who yell at him that the tree is dead.

“But what was that famous saying?” Jorgensen said, referring to Mark Twain. “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated?”

Crews worked overnight to relocate a massive sequoia tree first planted in Boise in 1912. The tree was moved from the front of St. Luke's Medical Center to Fort Boise Park.

He’s not giving up. New green growth is visible at the ends of otherwise brown branches, a sign that while the brown needles may be dead, their branches are not.

Road construction is underway along Fort Street near the tree. One possible danger, Jorgensen said, is that construction equipment and trucks could compact the soil around the tree, making it hard for roots to spread.

The tree was planted as a seedling in 1912 in what was then the garden of the Pittengers, a prominent Boise family. The seedling was a gift from forester Emile Grandjean, who received it from conservation pioneer John Muir. The Pittenger estate and all of the land around it eventually became the hospital complex. St. Luke’s Heatlh System paid $300,000 to preserve the tree, moving it a few hundred feet across Fort Street from its original site at Jefferson and Avenue B.

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