Every plant has roots. Not many, however, have roots that run as deep into local history as the pair of pistache trees on Paul Messinger’s downtown Scottsdale property.
Messinger’s trees were imported from Persia in 1932. Their purpose was to provide greenery for a luxury resort rising north of Phoenix called the Arizona Biltmore. Several of the trees were left over once that project was complete and they were adopted by construction workers.
One worker lived in a small wood-frame house near the future crossroads of Indian School and Miller roads. He planted the Pistache trees next to an open irrigation ditch. A decade later, that land would become the Messinger family farm.
Former City Councilman Paul Messinger grew up there and remembers the twin pistache trees of his youth.
“They were nice, young trees growing well,” he said. “They liked that irrigation water.”
Much has changed, but those trees remain. Persia is now Iran. The unincorporated hamlet where the trees found a home became Scottsdale. The family farm transformed into businesses that include Messinger Mortuary, an oasis of low-slung buildings on the doorstep of a bustling downtown.
Today the lush canopies of the pistache trees rise 85 feet and they remain true to their original purpose -- providing a splash of green in a sun-drenched desert.
Heritage Tree designation
And now they have another distinction – both have been named Heritage Trees by the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. The award recognizes trees with a special connection to people, ones that have cultural significance or represent an important event.
There’s no arguing the Messinger pistache trees have amassed some significance – and appreciation – through the years.
When Indian School Road was being expanded around 15 years ago, the proposed alignment would have taken out the trees. City planners, however, moved the route 10 feet north and the endangered pistaches were sparred.
“Those trees never cost anyone a penny, but the city had a big enough heart to put the road around them,” Messinger said. “I thought that was pretty compassionate.”
It was the right thing to do, said Eric Ibsen, a parks and recreation supervisor with the city of Scottsdale.
“Think about how much visual appeal they provide when driving through that area,” Ibsen said. “Trees inspire walkability; they provide respite from the heat and the sun.”
Ibsen coordinates city activities relating to Arbor Day and Tree City USA, programs that celebrate the value and benefits of trees. He nominated the Messinger pistache trees for the Arizona recognition.
“They are huge, beautiful trees,” he said. “And they obviously have a lot of history.”
Not all of it’s been good. Once a driver misjudged the curve on Indian School and collided head-on with one of the trees, Messinger said. Driver and victim both survived. Large trucks passing too close to the curb have occasionally sheared off branches.
Through it all, Messinger has tried to provide the trees with extra care befitting local landmarks. He still flood irrigates the property and employs a tree service to regularly trim and fertilize them.
Nearing the century mark
He estimates the trees were around 10 years old when they arrived at the Biltmore construction site. That would make them just a few years shy of the century mark and well beyond the pistache life expectancy of 80 years.
Their prodigious size and splendor don’t go unnoticed. Messinger says he and his mortuary staff field frequent questions about what are likely Scottsdale’s oldest transplanted residents.
Now they can also share that the pistaches are official Arizona Heritage Trees.
“I received a certificate when we got the award,” said Messinger. “I’m going to put it up in the lobby. Those are quite some trees.”