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Seattle’s Giant Sequoia Undergoes Emergency Care

The health of Seattle's iconic Giant Sequoia is declining and its top has been damaged.

A Seattle icon, the Giant Sequoia Tree which stands in the triangle where Fourth Avenue intersects with Olive and Stewart streets on the north side of Macy’s (formerly the Bon Marche), is in dire need of emergency care…and that’s just what the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Urban Forestry undertook this past week.  The tall evergreen tree, which marks the main entrance to the Seattle’s downtown retail core, comes to mind for most Seattleites as the tree that’s draped with colored lights during the holiday season. Recently the 100-foot-tall Sequoia began declining and suffered the loss of ten feet off its top.  The question now is: can such a tree survive in its current environment of pavement and exhaust produced by heavy traffic?

Delicate operation: SDOT Urban Forestry crew members carefully excavate and remove soil around the base of the tree.

After consulting with an internationally known tree expert, SDOT’s Urban Forestry began soil renovation at the tree’s base in hopes of reviving it.  This past week, using special equipment, the staff carefully aerated the surface soil and also dug three foot voids.  Next, the crew filled the voids with compost donated by Cedar Grove and then added a top layer of duff – organic material salvaged from the surface beneath healthy trees of the same species.  The tree will be monitored closely over the growing season and if there is evidence of increased vitality, the same operation may be undertaken a second time in 2011 or 2012.   In future weeks, the Urban Forestry staff also plans follow up work on the tree’s damaged top to encourage it to develop a new “central leader”.

The tree was moved, in 1973, to its current location at 4th /Olive Way /Stewart Street from its previous home on Aurora Avenue.

In 1973, the stately tree was transplanted from a site along Aurora Avenue North.  Since 1992, each winter the tree has been decorated with holiday lights by a Queen Anne resident.  Volunteer Eric Greenberg has purchased low-energy lights and is working in partnership with SDOT on the various improvements with the hope of improving the health and growth of the tree so that it may continue to brighten downtown Seattle in the coming years.