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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: Can this Giant Sequoia be Saved?

6/9/2010  10:00:00 AM
Sue Romero  (206) 684-8548

Can this Giant Sequoia be Saved?

SEATTLE— Many people will know the giant sequoia, located in the triangle where Fourth Avenue intersects with Olive and Stewart streets, as that very tall evergreen tree by Macy’s (formerly the Bon Marche) that is draped with colored lights during the winter holidays.  The once beautiful tree has been in declining health in recent years and has a damaged top. The question is: can such a tree survive in its current environment of pavement and exhaust produced by heavy traffic?

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Urban Forestry is undertaking a soil renovation operation this week, after consulting with an internationally known expert. Special equipment (air spade and vactor truck) will be used to aerate the surface soil, and also to replace some of the deeper soil with compost. In future weeks the Urban Forestry staff plans to follow up with work on the tree itself to encourage the development of a new “central leader” at the top of the tree.

Date:   Thursday, June 10

Approximate time:   10 to 11 a.m.

Location:   Street triangle at the intersections of Fourth Avenue, Stewart Street and Olive Street.


Giant Sequoia Fact Sheet
June 9, 2010

The health of the Giant Sequoia by Macy’s has been gradually declining. SDOT’s Urban Forestry staff is working to restore the vitality of this tree which marks a main entrance to Seattle’s downtown retail core.

The Sequoia giganteum was 100 feet tall until a break at the top reduced it by 10 feet. Recognizing that this species can reach far greater heights even in a highly urban environment, SDOT Urban Forestry will work to improve the soil this week as the first step in their plan for revitalization. This effort will be followed in the next couple of weeks by additional work to encourage the development of a new central leader at the top of the tree.

Location: Street triangle at the intersection of Fourth Avenue, Olive and Stewart streets, next to the Times Square Building and Macy’s.

History: The tree was transplanted in 1973 from a site along Aurora Avenue North. A volunteer resident with the help of donations has installed holiday lights on the tree each winter since 1992.

Plan of Action on June 10: The soil, both at the surface and deeper underground, will be improved to allow more water and air to penetrate, providing a larger area of suitable soil to support continued growth of the tree. An “air spade” in tandem with a “vactor truck” will carefully excavate and remove soil, creating three-foot deep voids that will then be filled with compost. The air spade will be used to aerate the surface soil, followed by an application of duff (organic material salvaged from the surface beneath healthy trees of the same species) placed on the surface. The tree will be monitored closely over the coming growing season. Assuming there is evidence of increased vitality, the same operation may be undertaken a second time in 2011 or 2012.

Partners: SDOT enlisted assistance from James Urban, an internationally known landscape architect who prescribed the current treatment. Assuming the tree shows improved vitality over the next couple of years as a result of this week’s treatment, SDOT has expressed an interest in a second phase with input from Urban to further expand the volume of soil available to the tree under the adjacent sidewalk and street pavement.

Cedar Grove is donating the compost backfill.

Volunteer Eric Greenberg has purchased low-energy lights that will hopefully continue to brighten the downtown Seattle winter sky for many years to come.



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Seattle Department of Transportation

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