Watch: Giant tree is hoisted into the Amazon Spheres in milestone planting for Seattle structures

Spheres tree
A large ficus tree from California is lifted into the Spheres on Amazon’s downtown Seattle campus on Tuesday. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

A 48-year-old tree, sent by truck from a Southern California farm two weeks ago, has a new home inside the Spheres on Amazon’s downtown Seattle campus.

The 55-foot-tall Ficus rubiginosa — the largest specimen planted in the unique structures — was hoisted by crane on Tuesday morning. Dubbed “Rubi,” the tree was inserted via an opening in the roof of one of the domes at the construction site on Lenora Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

An attempt to lift the tree on June 12 was stopped over concern for the stability of the box holding the tree’s root ball. Eight days later, with a crowd of Amazon and Sellen construction workers and others looking on, a giant crane made short work of the job.

The 36,000-pound tree was quickly picked off the ground and held above a 25-foot-wide opening. Workers inside the Spheres took care to finesse the tree down through scaffolding without damaging branches.

Ron Gagliardo, senior manager of horticultural services for the Spheres, watched from Seventh Avenue in front of Amazon’s Day 1 tower as the tree top slowly disappeared into the structure.

“Horticulturally it’s the biggest milestone for me to this point,” Gagliardo said. “It was taking a huge risk for us, but that’s what Amazon does and I now really, really appreciate taking risks.”

Spheres tree
Amazon horticulturalist Ron Gagliardo watches as the tree goes into the Spheres while he is filmed by a company camera crew. )GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Gagliardo, who has been in charge of amassing the collection of exotic plants that will fill the Spheres, said he has never planted anything as big as Rubi.

“When we first saw this tree, my first thought was, ‘It’s too big,’” Gagliardo said. “You take calculated risks, you take challenges on and this team here has been awesome.”

The tree was first planted in 1969 at Berylwood Tree Farm in Somis, Calif. Founder Rolla Wilhite, who died in 2014, was a respected horticulturist and landscape architect pioneer, and the farm’s field-grown trees have been used in hundreds of projects around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles; and Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.

Gagliardo said Rubi has fared well thus far, with the move and the delay in planting. He said it’s encouraging that the tree has not suffered a lot of leaf drop.

“I suspect after the tree is inside it’s going to start acclimating very very quickly and probably start putting out new growth in the next few weeks,” Gagliardo said. “She actually looks really good for what she’s been through.”

Spheres tree
A Rubi sticker is visible on the hard hat of Spheres program manager Justin Schroeder as the tree is placed inside the Amazon building in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon’s staff of horticulturalists has been busy placing specimens in the Spheres ever since the first plant arrived on May 4. The next big milestone will be the installation of a four-story “living wall” later this summer.

The glass-enclosed orbs, which aren’t scheduled to open until early next year, will be home to plants from all over the world. The tropical climate will be similar to the altitudinal zone found in Costa Rica or Indonesia. Employees will be encouraged to use the space as an escape from normal office life, where they can get in touch with nature and use the setting to “think and work differently.”

Spheres tree
Amazon’s Day 1 tower, right, the Spheres construction site and the Doppler tower are visible along Seventh Avenue in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)