Saint Lukes Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in the state and is a landmark in the city of Boise.
Idaho’s Champion Big TreeThis tree grew from a cutting of a giant sequoia presented as a gift to Dr. Fred Pittenger by the forester and conservationist Emil Grandjean. In approximately 1912, the cutting was planted next to Dr. Pittenger’s home by his British gardener, John E. Barry.
In the ’80 the tree almost died. The danger posed to the tree came from an unlikely source – neither axe nor pine borer nor Idaho’s dry climate was the culprit. Rather, it was the spirit of Christmas. In 1984, St. Luke’s began decorating the tree for the holidays, complete with hundreds of strings of lights placed by a fellow unafraid of heights. Beneath the tree – on asphalt, concrete, and grass placed there specifically for the purpose – rested colorful, enormous soldiers and carolers that delighted the throngs of people who flocked to see what quickly became known as “Boise’s Christmas tree.”
From 1984 through 1987, for two festive weeks during the holidays, St. Luke’s invited the community to join together under the sequoia and enjoy refreshments and Christmas carols sung by local choirs. And lest you think that St. Luke’s was not a good steward of the tree, a local horticultural company had been consulted before the first year of decorating, and again in the fall of 1985 to ensure that the previous year’s decorations had not harmed the tree. With assurances that the tree was in good shape, and that the weakened and dead wood that had been removed in the spring was likely a result of early and intense cold coupled with drought stress, the holiday show went on.
The sequoia continued to decline, and steps were taken to protect its health, namely, removal of adjacent asphalt and several junipers in the vicinity. However, the tree’s needles continued to turn browner with each passing month, and after the 1987 holiday season, St. Luke’s administration made the very difficult decision to disappoint the public by canceling future celebrations, yet, by doing so, ultimately save the tree. In a letter dated January 26, 1988, St. Luke’s President E. E. “Gil” Gilbertson wrote in a memo to the Building Services director, “As you know, St. Luke’s has an absolute obligation to keep this tree as healthy and vigorous as possible.”
As the tree’s deterioration continued, in the spring of 1989 St. Luke’s consulted with Mayne Tree Expert Company in California, which is the giant sequoia’s native state. In their report, Mayne Tree noted that the tree “has continued to die back from the top.” In addition to recommending cutting off the dead top and removing turf from around the tree, the experts also advised a special regimen for watering and irrigation, and checking weekly for mites.
St. Luke’s followed the recommendations, and a “leader” branch was bent skyward in hopes that it would grow to replace the 11 feet of treetop that had been removed. The leader branch did its job, and the other recommendations are still being followed to this day. Although the sequoia does not maintain the nearly perfect symmetry of its youth, it is a hearty, vigorous tree that continues to awe anyone who takes a moment to stand below and gaze up through its magnificent branches.
“The sequoia is the showpiece of the Boise campus,” says Gary Fletcher, St. Luke’s Boise/Meridian CEO. “By providing it with appropriate and high-level care, we’re assuring it will be here to grace our grounds for generations to come.”"
The girth of the tree, measured at a height of 1.40 m, is 5.69 m (2008, T. Kennedy). Its height is around 27.13 m (2008, measurement method unknown, T. Kennedy). This tree was planted around the year 1912 ± 10, which makes it around 103 ± 10 years old (Tim B, Oct 1, 2011).