The story behind the north portal's signature tree

The signs of summer are everywhere. There’s more sun in the sky and more boats in the water. There’s also more of something that most folks wouldn’t even know to look for: leaves in one of Seattle’s newest trees.

Allow us to introduce you to the Garry Oak, the area’s only native oak species. Native Garry Oak prairies were once commonly found in Western Washington. This particular Garry Oak was planted this spring a few blocks east of the Space Needle, directly above the future southbound entrance to the SR 99 tunnel.

 
Garry oak planting
Crews planting the Garry Oak earlier this spring.
 
The tree’s significance
 
In developing the landscaping for the tunnel portals, the state coordinated closely with local tribes to honor the indigenous history of this part of Seattle. Designers wanted to incorporate a “signature tree” – one that would have cultural or historical significance – to mark the entrance to the tunnel.
 
This is where the Garry Oak came in. There used to be a trail between Elliott Bay and South Lake Union. Among local villages, the area was known as Baba'kwob prairie. Historically, tribal members used to collect camas, wild onions, and other native plants in the prairie. They also hunted ducks on the flyway between the bay and South Lake Union.  
 
The state’s design team coordinated plant selection at the portals with the tribes to invoke this past landscape, of which the Garry Oak tree was an important part. Members of the Muckleshoot Tribe plan to transplant camas, onions, and other prairie bulbs to the north portal under the tree later in the project. They hope to bring school children to the site in the future to see this recreated slice of prairie that their ancestors would have actively utilized.
 
Garry oak with leaves
Members of the Muckleshoot Tribe will plant a variety of native prairie bulbs here later in the project to invoke their ancestral landscape.
 
Learn more about the future north portal at our July Speaker Series event at Milepost 31
While Bertha continues her journey from SODO to South Lake Union, trees, plants, and flowers are already growing at the finish line! Landscape architect Katey Bean will talk about the design of the landscape at the tunnel’s north end and how it pays homage to the indigenous landscape that used to exist in this part of Seattle.
 
Katey is a landscape architect and urban designer who has been working on the north portal landscape design since 2010. She recently moved from the WSDOT landscape architecture group to HNTB, where she will continue to be involved in large infrastructure projects in and around Seattle. 
 
Thursday, July 7 
Milepost 31, 211 First Ave. S., Seattle
Admission is free
6:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.