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Watch a 100-foot-tall Giant Sequoia Get Transplanted in Boise

A gift from John Muir, the beloved tree was transferred to a local park by St. Luke’s Medical Center so the facility can expand

smithsonian.com

Anyone wandering the streets of Boise, Idaho early Sunday morning may have witnessed an unusual site: a 100-foot giant sequoia with a 20-foot circumference moving down the middle of the street. No, it wasn’t the Last March of the Ents. Instead, the historic tree was being transplanted from its home at St. Luke’s Medical Center to a nearby park so the medical center can expand, reports Colin Dwyer at NPR. 

As giant sequoias go, the tree isn't particularly large. Its massive brethren on the West Coast can grow over 250 feet with 100-foot circumferences—more than twice as large as the one in Idaho. The Boise tree is not particularly old either. Planted in 1912, the sequoia has grown for just over a century, while the oldest sequoias can make it over 3,000 years. But the tree is a minor celebrity in Boise, both because it is unique—sequoias aren’t native to the area—and because it was a gift from John Muir, famed naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club.

Muir, a Scottish immigrant to the United States, rambled around the Sierra Nevada mountains and took long treks across the country to Florida and through Alaska. His writing helped bring attention to the United States' natural wonders and the threats they faced from logging and ranching. His book on the newly created parks of the West, Our National Parks, caught the eye of President Theodore Roosevelt, who visited Yosemite in Muir’s company to discuss future conservation initiatives.

Anna Webb at the Idaho Statesman reports that Muir sent Emil Grandjean, one of first professional foresters in Idaho, four sequoia seedlings. Grandjean gave a cutting from one of those trees to Dr. Fred Pittenger, who planted the tree on the family estate; it ended up being sole survivor of the four seedlings. Even as the land changed purposes, from Pettinger home to hospital, the Muir tree stayed. 

Samantha Wright at Boise State Public Radio reports that for a brief period in the 1980s, the tree served as the city’s Christmas tree, but a sharp decline in the sequoia's health ended its Yuletide gig.

Anita Kissée, a spokeswoman for St. Luke’s Health System, told the Associated Press the hospital loves the tree as much as the rest of Boise, but it needed the area to expand. “We understand the importance of this tree to this community,” she said. “[Cutting it down] was never even an option.”

Dwyer reports the hospital spent $300,000 to move the 800,000-pound tree to nearby Fort Boise Park. In October, the tree's roots were trimmed to keep them from expanding. This spring, wood and burlap walls were built around the root system, then steel pipes and airbags lifted the massive tree into position. Crews then rolled the tree down the street on airbags,  getting the tree into its new position at the park by 11:15. On Monday, they leveled the tree and added more dirt from its original position to help it adapt.

“We’ve all got our fingers crossed that the tree is going to make it,” Mary Grandjean, granddaughter of the forester who received the trees from Muir, told Webb.

David Cox told the AP this is the largest tree his company, Environmental Design, has ever moved. He gives the tree a 95 percent chance of surviving the transplant—which means it should have hundreds more years to grow. 

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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