US National Arboretum

 

 

State Trees and State Flowers

State Trees

State Tree and Flower Chart | State Trees | State Tree Facts and Trivia


Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) state tree of NEW YORK, WEST VIRGINIA, WISCONSIN, VERMONT

Sugar maples are among the best known trees in the eastern United States because of their handsome appearance and distinctive leaf shape.  The sugar maple is economically important as the source of maple syrup. The sap is harvested (tapped) in early spring, and boiled down to form pure maple syrup.  Chosen as the state tree for four US states, this maple is perhaps best recognized as the leaf on the flag of Canada, designated in the mid-1960s.  Although widely associated with Canada, sugar maples do not naturally grow far north or west in Canada.  They grow from southeast Canada through New England and the Midwestern United States, south to Tennessee and Virginia.  They are found typically in deep, rich, well-drained soils.  Often planted as ornamental and shade trees, they are prized for their fall colors of brilliant yellow, orange, and sometimes red. The hard wood is used to make furniture, veneer, cabinets, and many other items.
 
Look for:  medium-sized tree with opposite branches; distinctive leaf, as on the Canadian flag, with approximately five major lobes; small dangling pale yellow flowers in early spring before the leaves emerge; winged seeds that spin as they fall.

 

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) state tree of MISSOURI, VIRGINIA

The white “flowers” of flowering dogwood are actually four large white bracts encircling a cluster of tiny yellowish true flowers.  The bracts start out small and green, and gradually enlarge and turn white during the mid-spring blooming season.  In fall, clusters of red berries are formed, and the bright red fall leaf color can be radiant.  Flowering dogwood is a common woodland tree through the eastern United States.  It grows in association with beech, hickory, maple, and oak.  It occupies a mid-level height in the forest, never growing as tall as its larger tree associates.  It can be inconspicuous in the forest when not in bloom.  Flowering dogwood is very popular in horticulture, and many new forms have been developed, including plants with pink or red bracts.  A disease of the leaves and inner bark, called anthracnose, is impacting our native dogwoods.  Researchers have bred plants which are resistant to the disease by hybridizing our native flowering dogwood with the closely related kousa dogwood from Asia.

Look for: Small tree rarely exceeding 30 feet tall; you really can tell a dogwood by its bark – look for rough, square to hexagonal patterns like cracked mud; opposite leaves, oval shaped, with an extended point at the tip, impressed parallel veins; small yellowish-green flowers in a cluster surrounded by four large white bracts; berries hard, oval, and bright red.

 

Tulip poplar, Tulip tree, Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) state tree of INDIANA, KENTUCKY, TENNESSEE

Not a poplar, and certainly not a tulip, the tulip poplar is actually a member of the magnolia family.  Tulip poplar grows through most of the eastern states, but it is rare or absent in the extreme north.  It prefers moist locations along streams or in deep cove forests of the Appalachian Mountains.  In such areas it can be very tall and form an important component of mixed deciduous forests.  They are relatively fast growing trees, often with tall straight trunks, branched only at the top.  They possess a distinctive gray furrowed bark.  The leaves are light green with a unique four-lobed outline. Trees begin producing flowers and fruits when 15 to 20 years old.  The flowers are the size and shape of a tulip flower, greenish-yellow with an orange splotch near the base of each petal.  The flowers tend to be produced on high branches, so flowers are most often seen when they have fallen to the ground.  This is a valuable hardwood tree and its wood is used in interior finishes, furniture, general construction, and plywood.  Tulip poplar is also widely grown as an ornamental.  Kentucky’s choice of state tree has been subject to much controversy.  The original choice in 1956 was for tulip poplar, but this was deemed unofficial.  In 1976 after a heated campaign, Kentucky switched its official state tree to Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus).  Supporters preferred this tree, as Kentucky is part of its name, and the tulip poplar had already been chosen by two neighboring states.  But advocates for the tulip poplar continued their support for the original selection, citing the many uses the tree had for settlers, including Daniel Boone.  In 1994 the Kentucky state tree was switched back to tulip poplar!

Look for:  tall straight trunk with vertically-furrowed bark; light green deeply lobed leaves; flower like a green tulip; cone-like seed cluster which breaks into winged seeds.

Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) was planted in the National Grove of State Trees in 1989 to represent Kentucky. Since that time, Kentucky has switched its state tree to tulip poplar.  You may see tulip poplar in the neighboring grove for Indiana.

 

Magnolia (genus Magnolia) state tree of MISSISSIPPI

The Mississippi state tree is the magnolia; the species in not specified.  Of the six native (and numerous cultivated) species of magnolia in Mississippi, it is the southern magnolia that is popularly considered as the state tree.  Southern magnolia is also Mississippi’s state flower.  This beautiful large evergreen tree is native to the coastal plain region of the southeast US, but it has been widely planted in the United States.  It is hardy to Zone 6.  The large distinctive leaves are stiff, dark green, shiny above, dull or covered with rusty hairs on the underside.  The fragrant flowers are huge and waxy-white, produced in late spring to early summer.  They are followed by cone-like fruits with red seeds in autumn.  Southern magnolia tends to keep its lower branches (unless they are cut) and so forms a broad tree with leaves down to ground level.  The wood is occasionally used for furniture, baskets, and crates, but the tree’s chief value is as an ornamental.  Many cultivars have been developed, especially to prolong the blooming season.  The tree is frequently planted about the District of Columbia, and it can be seen in gardens in many other parts of the world.  The tree is adaptable and is successfully grown in unlikely places like the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, and in southern China in classical Chinese gardens.

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Mississippi.

Look for: large rounded tree with branches usually reaching to the ground; large stiff and  shiny evergreen leaves, often with a rusty felt-like coating of hairs on the underside; large white flowers up to one foot wide; cone-like fruit which extrudes hard, orange-red seeds.

 

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) state tree of ALABAMA, NORTH CAROLINA

This pine is a tall, stately native of the southern United States coastal plain, from southeast Texas to southern Virginia.   It is one of several pines which characterize the southern pine savannahs.  Longleaf pine thrives in areas with long, hot summer conditions and poor acidic soils that are low in organic matter.   Like most savannah species, longleaf pine depends on fire to maintain its habitat.  Its seeds germinate best on land recently burned.  It is a slow-growing tree that may live 200 to 300 years.  This pine produces valuable lumber and is also used to produce turpentine, rosin, and tar.  The wood is used for posts, structural beams, and flooring.  In colonial times, large areas of longleaf pine were cut down for use in shipbuilding.  Logging and conversion of the land for other uses has eliminated 97 percent of the longleaf pine forests that existed in pre-colonial times.  Old hollow trees are a favorite home for the rare red-cockaded woodpecker.  Alabama’s state tree was listed as the “Southern pine” in 1949.  But many pines are native to the South, and this name was not specific to a species.  It was not until 1997 that Pinus palustris was officially designated as Alabama’s state tree.

Look for: pine tree with very long needles up to 18 inches long, in clusters of three; dormant buds are white; large elongate pine cones, 6 to 10 inches long.

Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Alabama.  Loblolly pine was planted there in 1989 to represent a “Southern pine.”  Since then, legislation has designated longleaf pine as the Alabama state tree, and we intend to change our planting for the state.

 

Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) state tree of KANSAS, NEBRASKA

One of the few trees to prosper on the Great Plains, the cottonwood was chosen as state tree for Kansas and Nebraska.  Eastern cottonwood has a wide natural range covering all of the eastern United States, westward to the Rocky Mountain states.  The tree is characteristic of low-lying areas, especially near rivers, streams, swamps, and bottomlands.  They can form pure stands or occur mixed with other species, particularly willows and sycamores.  Eastern cottonwood is a colonizing species that will invade old fields in the southern part of its natural range.   It is a fast growing tree, as it can mature in 10 to 12 years.  This tree is not ideal for most landscaping projects, as the wood is weak and the extensive root system may enter and clog water and sewer lines.  The cottony seeds are produced in spring and will blow about in the wind.  A large tree can deposit a snow-like drift of seed-cotton, which can be unsightly in an urban environment.

Look for: stout wide-branching tree; large wide simple leaves somewhat triangular in shape, often shiny, veins sometimes pale to bright red; flowers in cylindrical catkins; followed in spring by tiny seeds with tufts of cottony hairs.

 

Eastern white pine  (Pinus strobus) state tree of MAINE, MICHIGAN

Eastern white pine has a long history of timber use in the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada.  It is the tallest tree of eastern North America, and is ideal for ship masts.  During the Colonial Period the best trees in New England were marked on the trunk with the symbol of the King’s Broad Arrow, signifying these trees were reserved for the King of England and the Royal Navy.  This added to the feelings of rebellion among New England colonists at the onset of the Revolutionary War.  Some northern states such as Michigan were originally covered by ancient old-growth forests of white pine.  Extensive logging in the late 1800’s removed nearly all the old trees.  Waste piles of discarded side limbs caught fire in drought years, and firestorms decimated parts of Michigan following the logging.  The ancient stands of white pine did not return, and have been mostly replaced by hardwood forests of beech and maple. Today, white pine has a more limited lumber use.  It is often used as an ornamental tree, for wind breaks, and for screening areas. 

Look for: tree to 150 feet tall; thin needles about five inches long, soft and flexible, in groups of five; with white lines along the lower surface; slender cones 4-8 inches long.

 

White oak  (Quercus alba) state tree of CONNECTICUT, ILLINOIS, MARYLAND

The wide distribution of white oak though eastern North America, together with its valuable wood and historical importance, have convinced three states to choose this oak as state tree.  Connecticut’s choice was doubtlessly inspired by the Charter Oak.  The Connecticut Charter, proclaiming the rights granted to the new colony, was presented to the state by King Charles II of England in 1662.  In 1687, England’s new ruler, King James II, demanded Connecticut’s Charter back.  English agents were sent to capture the document.  During a nighttime meeting over the fate of the Charter, the candles lighting the meeting room were blown out, and the Charter disappeared!  It was hidden in the hollow of an old white oak, which became known as the Charter Oak.  Already old and hollow, the Charter Oak fell in 1856.  A first-generation offspring of the Charter Oak is cultivated in Bushnell Park in Hartford.  The strong, hard wood of white oak was used to build the outer hull of the Revolutionary War frigate U.S.S. Constitution.  When British cannonballs were deflected by the ship’s resilient hull in the War of 1812, she was nicknamed “Old Ironsides.”  Maryland’s Wye Oak was the largest white oak in the United States, and a state park was created to protect it.  The tree fell in 2002 during a thunderstorm.  It was estimated to have been over 460 years old -- older than the state of Maryland.   The Maryland grove in the National Grove of State Trees features white oaks grown from acorns of the Wye Oak.

Look for: medium to tall tree; leaves 5-9 inches long, outlined with 7 to 10 distinctive, deeply rounded lobes; flowers small, wind-pollinated, on hanging catkins; acorns are ½ to one inch long, one quarter of which is enclosed under the cap.

 

American elm (Ulmus americana) state tree of MASSACHUSETTS, NORTH DAKOTA

The American elm was a popular tree in parks and along avenues prior to 1930.  It has been described as “vase-shaped” with upright arching branches forming a “green cathedral” beneath its high canopy.  Both Massachusetts and North Dakota chose American elm as their state trees in the 1940’s -- just as these trees were beginning to die in alarming numbers. The Dutch elm disease, an introduced fungal pathogen, originated in Asia, but was first described in the Netherlands.  Spread by bark beetles, the fungus moved from east to west across the range of American elm, leaving in its wake a decimated population.  Trees in the southern part of the elm’s range have been more likely to survive.  Others survive as root sprouts from the stump.  In high-profile areas, some mature American elms have been preserved by periodic injections with systemic fungicide.  Intensive research has focused on breeding resistant plants, either by hybridizing American elm with naturally resistant Asian elm species, or by selective breeding of American elms that have shown innate resistance.  Two new cultivars released by the National Arboretum,‘Valley Forge’ and ‘New Harmony,’ display a high degree of tolerance or resistance to Dutch elm disease.  

Look for: large tree with arching branches; rough textured oval-shaped leaf with an asymmetrical base and saw-toothed margins; flowers green and insignificant; fruits winged, discus-shaped, with a fringe of hairs around the edge.

 

 

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) state tree of ALASKA

The world’s largest-growing spruce is the Sitka spruce, sometimes exceeding 200 feet in height in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.  A tolerance for salt spray allows the spruce to grow right down to the seashore.   It follows the coastline from Alaska through Canada, and southward to northern California, where it grows in the company of redwoods.  Sitka Spruce wood is light and flexible, and it was found to be ideal for use in airplane construction.  The Mosquito bomber, used in World War II, and Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose were built using Sitka spruce from Alaska and British Columbia.  The famous “Golden Spruce” in British Columbia was an oddly pigmented Sitka Spruce.  Although that tree was chopped down, cuttings from it have been preserved in cultivation and given the cultivar name Picea sitchensis 'Bentham's Sunlight'.

Look for: tall conifer; needles 1 inch long, four-sided, sharply pointed at the tip, with a tiny peg-shaped base; cones cylindrical, 1 ½ to 3 ½ inches long, with thin, irregularly toothed scales.

Alaska Cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Alaska.

 

Palo verde (genus Parkinsonia) state tree of ARIZONA

The name “palo verde” means “green branch.”  The trees have thin green bark on their trunks and branches. During dry times, which may be most of the year, the tree will shed its delicate leaves to conserve moisture.  The plant can continue to photosynthesize through the chlorophyll in its trunk and branches.  Arizona’s palo verde is a true desert dweller, and it frequently grows in the company of the saguaro cactus (Carnegia gigantea), which is Arizona’s state flower.  The palo verde often serves as a “nurse plant” for saguaro cacti -- the cactus seedlings require a shaded, moist environment in their first few years of growth.  The palo verde is an attractive small tree increasingly used as a street tree in the desert southwest.  In spring the branches are covered with bright yellow flowers, and the green trunk adds interest through the rest of the year.  Three similar palo verde species are native in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  There is also a hybrid palo verde, Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’ possessing favorable characteristics for landscaping use.  The legislation designating Arizona’s state tree does not select a particular species of palo verde, but only specifies the genus Cercidium.  Studies of the North American Cercidium showed that our palo verde species belong in the same group as the African Parkinsonia.  This group of plants has been reclassified as Parkinsonia, since this was the earlier name in use.

Look for: small rounded tree branching low on the trunk, branches often drooping to the ground, twigs typically spiny;  compound leaves with small leaflets, varying between the three species; flowers yellow and showy; fruit is a bean pod with hard seeds.

Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Arizona.

 

Pine tree (genus Pinus) state tree of ARKANSAS

Arkansas has designated the “pine tree” as its official state tree.  The 1939 resolution adopting pine cites the utility of pine timber resources as a great source of wealth for the state, and that pine is a renewable resource that will continue to be important to Arkansas in the future.  There are four species of pine native to Arkansas.  Among them, the loblolly pine, also known as the Arkansas pine, often is cited as the state tree of Arkansas.  This would be a good choice, given its significance as a timber tree, but it is entirely unofficial.  In the National Grove of State Trees another Arkansas native, the shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) has been planted to represent Arkansas.  This too is a good choice, being an important timber tree, widely distributed across most of Arkansas (more common in Arkansas than loblolly pine).  The other two pines native to Arkansas are much rarer, and less suitable candidates.

Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Arkansas.

Look for: medium to large pine tree; needles 3-5 inches long, in groups of 2-3, flexible and with a persistent sheath at the base; egg-shaped cones two inches long with scales that remain flexible, each with a small sharp central prickle (called an umbo).

 

Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervivens)
Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) state trees of CALIFORNIA

California has chosen two kinds of redwood as state tree.  These are quite different trees, and they live apart in different mountain ranges.  But both are magnificent plants, both symbolize California, and both are almost exclusively Californian.   The original state tree for California, adopted in 1937, was the “redwood.”  Unable to select one species over the other, the California Attorney General ruled in 1951 that both species constitute the state tree.  Coast redwoods live along the foggy Coast Range, where they thrive in mild weather and rainfall up to 120 inches per year.  The trees may live for over 2000 years, and can reach over 370 feet tall, with trunks to 20 feet in diameter.  The Coast redwood is the world’s tallest tree species.  The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum, earlier known as Sequoia gigantea), is often called the world’s largest living thing.  It is more massive that the coastal redwood, but does not grow quite as tall.    Giant sequoias grow on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a much drier habitat.  They also may live over 2000 years, and may reach 275 feet tall with trunks to 40 feet in diameter.  The trees are named after Sequoya (1770-1843), a Cherokee Chief who is famous as the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet.  Sequoya lived in the southeast United States and surely never saw or knew of the giant trees, but they were named in his honor.

The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent California.

Look for: tall upright tree, becoming massive with age; leaves evergreen, tiny, overlapping, and scale-like; cones egg-shaped, 2 inches long.

 

Blue spruce (Picea pungens) state tree of COLORADO, UTAH

The selection of Colorado’s state tree began when the Colorado Horticultural Society initiated a campaign to educate Colorado school children about local trees and to vote on one to represent the state.  Blue spruce was their top choice.  It is often called Colorado blue spruce, but this is only an alternate common name which does not refer to any particular species or variety.  Colorado’s state tree is the same species as the Utah State tree.  The blue spruce is prized for the color of its needles, which at their best are a distinctive deep silver-blue.  The coloration is due to a powdery waxy bloom on the surface of the needles.  Individuals differ in their degree of coloration, and some are a plainer dark green.  Horticultural cultivars have been selected for a uniform and deep blue coloration.  Blue spruce is commonly planted in landscapes, but it takes a good garden design plan to make this tree fit in a garden’s color scheme.  It is sometimes desired as a Christmas tree, but the sharp needles and stiff branches make it harder to work with than many other conifers.  Blue spruce is native to the Rocky Mountain region, but it is widely cultivated elsewhere.

Look for: medium-sized tree with a pyramidal growth form; needles a little over 1 inch long, stiff, sharp and curved, with a tiny peg-shaped base, deep frosty blue to dark green;  cones about 3 inches long.

 

Cabbage palmetto, cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) state tree of FLORIDA, SOUTH CAROLINA

This is a true palm tree, which may reach 60 feet tall, although it is usually shorter.  Cabbage palmetto is native to Florida and the Caribbean, ranging north to South Carolina and the barrier islands of North Carolina.  The name “cabbage” was given to the palm buds, or hearts of palm, a dish prepared from the large growing tip of the palm.  Harvesting it kills the tree. The cabbage palmetto is featured on the Great Seal of Florida.  It also appears on the state flag of South Carolina, “the Palmetto State.”  The tree symbol commemorates the defense of Charleston by the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island.  This fort served to repel a British invasion in 1776.  The strength of the fort is credited to the elasticity of the palm logs against a bombardment of cannon balls.  Cabbage palmetto is desirable for horticulture in regions with zone 8 or warmer winters.  It is frequently cultivated on the Hawaiian Islands.  It is salt-tolerant and good both for beach plantings or as a street tree.

Look for: palm tree with unbranched trunk; leaves up to five feet long, with leaflets in a costapalmate (fan-shaped) arrangement and without spines, (some trees shed their dead leaves while others retain them); flowers are tiny and white, but held in large inflorescences which emerge below the crown of leaves; fruit is black, spherical, pea-sized.

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Florida

Swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent South Carolina.

 

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) state tree of LOUISIANA

Baldcypress is a characteristic plant of southern swamplands.  It is the dominant tree in Florida’s Big Cypress National Park.  However, cypress swamps may be found as far north as Maryland, Missouri, and Illinois.  In cultivation the tree can tolerate a wide range of soils, but baldcypress is best known as a swamp tree, growing in flooded bottomlands, and forming wide buttressed trunks, together with woody “knees” projecting from the water.  The knees are outgrowths from the tree’s roots.  Louisiana’s abundant bottomland swamps once were home to immense forests of baldcypress trees, reaching 150 feet high, with bases 12 feet in diameter.  Such trees may have been 2000 years old.  From 1890-1925 industrialized logging was a major part of the economy of Louisiana.  The heartwood of the old-growth timber proved to be one of our most decay-resistant woods.  The wood of second-growth forests does not possess this quality, probably because sizeable heartwood will take centuries to develop.  Baldcypress is one of the few conifers that will shed all its needles in the winter.

Look for: straight upright-growing tree, with age forming a buttressed base; soft small needles, about ½ inch long, falling during the winter; spherical cones which fall apart into sections when mature.

 

American holly (Ilex opaca) state tree of DELAWARE

The American holly is native across most of the eastern and central United States, where it is unmistakable with its evergreen prickly leaves and red berries.  It is a small tree, at most 70 feet tall, growing as an understory tree in deciduous forests.  Early settlers in America noted the similarity of American holly to English holly, and used the American plants for Christmas decorations.  Since that time the ornamental uses of holly have proved more important than its use for lumber.  The wood has found limited specialized uses for veneer, tool handles, and piano keys.  American holly plays a major role in the horticulture industry, and there are over 1,000 different cultivars -- many of them hybrids with other holly species to confuse identification.  Growers of hollies must realize the plants may be either male or female.  The females are more desired, for only they can produce berries.  However a male should be planted nearby to pollinate them.  Most holly cultivars are selected to be all the same gender.  Certain male cultivars have been bred to be the best match for specific female cultivars.

Look for: small tree; evergreen shiny dark green leaves with sharp prickles on the margins; flowers in spring are small and greenish-white; bright red berries in winter.

 

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) tree of the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Scarlet oak is named for its brilliant fall leaf color, changing late in the season.  It is a large tree, reaching 70-100 feet tall.  Scarlet oak is native to dry ridges or dry sandy sites through most of the eastern United States.  The National Arboretum in Washington D.C. preserves some of the best natural stands of this species remaining within the District of Columbia. 

Look for: leaves deeply lobed with pointed tips on the lobes, dark green and glossy, later turning bright scarlet (though not all trees are equally brilliant); flowers small, wind-pollinated, on hanging catkins; large round acorns with deep cups, covering ½ to 1/3 of the nut.

In 2004 the United States Congress passed legislation designating a National Tree for the United States.  The oak tree was chosen.  The tree was selected after a four-month voting process hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation.  No specific oak species is selected, thus the genus Quercus must serve as the National Tree.  There are 90 species of oak native to the United States, in addition to many hybrids and a few introduced species.  Native oak species occur in every state except Alaska, Hawaii, and Idaho.

 

Live oak (Quercus virginiana) state tree of GEORGIA

The live oak is so called for its evergreen habit, which is common for oaks of the desert southwest and Pacific Coast, but unusual among eastern oaks.  A typical tree associated with the South, the live oak is native to the southeastern coastal plain from Virginia to Texas.  It also occurs in Mexico and Cuba.  Live oak forms a broad and massive tree, often wider than high at maturity.  In the Deep South it is often festooned with Spanish moss dangling from its branches.  While the tall straight trunks of pines were sought for ship masts, the massive arching branches of the live oak were sought for the curved ribs of a ship’s hull.  Live oak served this use in the construction of the U.S.S. Constitution—“Old Ironsides”—though the ship’s fame is connected more to the white oak used to plank its hull. The Daughters of the American Revolution were instrumental in selecting live oak as Georgia’s state tree.  The wood is one of the heaviest of any North American tree. 

Look for: large broad tree; simple oval evergreen leaves; flowers small, wind-pollinated, on hanging catkins; acorns about an inch long, oval-shaped.

 

Candlenut tree, or kukui (Aleurites moluccana) state tree of HAWAII

The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) was designated as the official tree of the Territory of Hawaii in 1930.  For unknown reasons, the designation was switched to the candlenut tree in 1959.  Hawaii is the only state with a state tree that is not native.  The original legislation designating candlenut cites the tree as native to all the Hawaiian Islands, so perhaps its history of introduction was not recognized at the time.  A native of Malaysia and Polynesia, the tree was brought to Hawaii and many other tropical locations by early Polynesian settlers who valued its many uses. Candlenut is a member of the poinsettia family, with white flowers and walnut-like spherical fruit.  The seeds are poisonous in their natural state.  They yield an oil which has been used to make preservatives, varnishes, and soap.  This oil, which may comprise over 70% of the content of the seed, is similar to tung oil (produced by a related species).  The seeds are flammable and can be burned like a candle.  

Look for: medium-sized tropical tree, to 60 feet tall; leaves large, variably shaped or lobed, pale green, with a long petiole; flowers small, five-petalled, white, showy when abundant; fruits spherical, around two inches wide, containing 1-2 large seeds.

Mamane (Sophora chrysophylla) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Hawaii.

 

Western white pine (Pinus monticola) state tree of IDAHO

Similar to the eastern white pine, and sometimes considered a variety of that species, the western white pine has a distinctly western distribution.  This pine grows in two separate bands, from the Cascade Mountains to the Sierra Nevada; and in the Selkirk and Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana.  It is said the largest trees were found in the populations around the Idaho panhandle, where they reached 200 feet tall.  White pine has been much prized for its lumber.  However, it is a slow-growing tree.  Overharvesting, together with outbreaks of pine beetle and blister rust, have reduced this pine to a fraction of its former range.

Look for: tall upright pine tree; needles in groups of five, blue-green with white lines; cones long and cylindrical, from 5 to 12 inches long.

 

Oak (genus Quercus) state tree of IOWA

Iowa has chosen the Oak as its state tree.  No species of oak has been designated.   However many authors have erroneously listed bur oak, white oak, or northern red oak as the state tree of Iowa.

The bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Iowa.  The natural range of bur oak is chiefly in east-central United States, and it is one of the most common naturally occurring trees in Iowa.  It is very drought tolerant and resistant to fire.  This allowed the bur oak to grow as the last forest tree on the edges of the prairie, where recurring fires and drought prevented forestation.  Bur oak grows to be a stately tree, but it is little-used in horticulture as it is difficult to transplant, and the oversized acorns become potent missiles when they fall.

Look for: large tree; violin-shaped leaves, deeply lobed at the base, with a deep waist halfway down the leaf; flowers small, wind-pollinated, on hanging catkins; large acorns to 1½ inches long, with a fringed cup covering half or more of the nut.

 

Singleleaf pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla)
Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) state trees of NEVADA

Nevada, like California, has two different trees serving as the official state trees.  First chosen was Singleleaf pinyon, a desert dweller from the high deserts of California, Nevada, and Utah.  It tolerates desert conditions better than any other pine in the United States.  The trees grow scattered in the high desert.  They are small, rarely more than 25 feet tall, usually rounded and bushy-looking. Singleleaf pinyon is extremely slow growing.  Plants require 35 years to start producing cones, and about 100 years before producing a good crop of seeds.  Many trees in the wild are over 300 years old.  Singleleaf is one of several pinyon pine species producing edible pine nuts.  Harvesting of pinyon nuts is still done from wild trees, since it is impractical to grow the trees in the manner of a plantation.  The harvest is labor intensive, requiring pulling off the cones with a pole or gloves, or picking individual fallen seeds off the ground.  The meat of the seed is protected by a heavy shell which must be removed.  The seeds may be eaten raw, but they are best prepared by roasting.  Most of the commercially available pine nuts sold in the United States come not from native pinyons, but from Russian and Chinese pine species, and the seeds are imported.

Look for: small rounded pine tree; needles single or rarely in pairs; cones 2 to 3 inches long, with deep pockets under each scale to hold the large seeds, these falling out soon after the cones open up.

Students from Ely, Nevada, successfully added bristlecone pine as the second state tree in 1987.  Like the pinyon pines, there are several kinds of bristlecone pine.  Pinus longaeva, also known as Pinus aristata var. longaeva, is native to California, Nevada, and Utah. Bristlecones are the ultimate mountaintop trees, holding to life at the limit of the tree line.  Only a few of the highest mountains in the southwest are cold and dry enough to support the lifestyle of the bristlecone.  The oldest known living tree, named the “Methuselah Tree,” lives in California and has been measured to be over 4,790 years old.  Another tree was discovered to be 4,844 years old in Nevada, but this was determined only after that tree had died.  These pines are generally considered to be the oldest living trees on Earth.  At these extreme ages the trees are gnarled and twisted with more dead wood than living branches.  Not surprisingly, the bristlecones are exceedingly slow growers.  The age of bristlecone wood can be judged with high accuracy by counting growth rings.  The chronology preserved in bristlecone wood has served to calibrate our techniques of radiocarbon dating.

Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) is grown in the National Grove of State Trees to represent Nevada.

Look for: small pine tree, growing to be gnarled old specimens with extreme age at high elevations, but assuming a more conical form in less stressful sites; short curved needles in groups of five; cones 3-5 inches long.

 

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) state tree of NEW HAMPSHIRE

The paper birch is easily recognized for its peeling white bark, which actually did find historical use as a paper substitute.  An alternate common name for the tree is canoe birch.  The bark, which can be peeled in large wide strips, was valued for construction of canoes.  The wood continues to be utilized for pulpwood and veneer, and for making toothpicks.  Paper birch is a fast growing tree, generally short-lived, and quick to colonize areas that have been burned or cleared.  It is a tree of the north woods, very cold tolerant, with most of its range in the northern United States and in Canada.  It doJune 12, 2009 2:18 PM-size tree with peeling bark, bright white and striped with black zones; simple oval leaves, toothed on the margins, alternately arranged, turning bright yellow in fall; flowers occur in elongates catkin in early spring; fruit is a small cone, releasing small winged seeds.

 

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) – State tree NEW JERSEY

State trees are designated by legislation, and this may be specific or general in defining the identity of the state tree.  New Jersey’s proclamation specifically lists Quercus borealis maxima, otherwise known as red oak.  However, botanical nomenclature can change, especially with oaks, and Quercus borealis has now been reclassified as Quercus rubra, the northern red oak.  This northern oak actually ranges quite far into the southern states, and west to the plains states.  It is a medium-sized tree to 90 feet tall.  It is one of the best of the oaks for lumber, and it also finds significant use as an ornamental shade tree, since it is more tolerant of transplanting than many other oaks.  The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) has been designated as the New Jersey State Memorial Tree.

Look for: large tree to 120 feet tall, bark with ridges that appear somewhat shiny; leaves 5 to 8 inches long, deeply lobed, the lobes with pointed tips often extending into bristles, bright red leaf color in fall; acorns to one inch long with a flat shallow cap.

 

Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) state tree of NEW MEXICO

Several species of pinyon pines produce edible seeds called “pine nuts” which are harvested for food in the southwest.  The most popular is Pinus edulis, which led to its choice as the New Mexico state tree.  Pinyons are very slow growing trees of the high desert.  Harvesting of pinyon nuts is still done from wild trees, since it is impractical to grow the trees in the manner of a plantation.  The harvest is labor intensive, requiring pulling off the cones with a pole or gloves, or picking individual fallen seeds off the ground.  The meat of the seed is protected by a heavy shell which must be removed.  The seeds may be eaten raw, but they are best prepared by roasting.  Most of the commercially available pine nuts sold in the United States come not from native pinyons, but from Russian and Chinese pine species, and the seeds are imported.

Look for: small rounded pine tree; thick curved needles, one to two inches long, usually in pairs; cones to two inches long, with two deep pockets under each scale to hold the large seeds, these falling out soon after the cones open up.

 

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) state tree of OHIO

No other state has its identity so closely linked to its state tree.  Ohio is the “Buckeye State,” Ohio natives are called “Buckeyes,” and the mascot of Ohio State University is Brutus Buckeye, a character with a head shaped like an oversized buckeye seed.  The name buckeye is in reference to the tree’s seeds.  The seeds are large, and appear to be fashioned from stained and varnished wood.  On the top they have a large round pale patch, giving the whole seed the look of an eyeball of a whitetail deer.  Although the seeds are bulky and contain a lot of substance, they are not edible.  The Ohio buckeye is a small- to medium-sized tree which has not found many industrial uses, but it has a distinctive appearance.  The Ohio buckeye is common in the Great Lakes states and eastern prairie states.  Buckeyes are related to the horse-chestnut, which has similar seeds.

Look for: shrub or small tree, in rare cases known to exceed 100 feet tall; leaves composed of five leaflets, 4 to 6 inches long, palmately arranged; flowers are yellow and grouped in an attractive inflorescence; fruits have lumpy to prickly husks surrounding a usually single, over one inch long, rounded seed, deep brown with a large pale-colored patch.

 

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) state tree of OKLAHOMA

Eastern redbud is a small short-lived tree in the bean family.  It is common through most of the eastern and plains states, though it does not enter the far north.  Redbud is of little use as a timber species, but it is very important as an ornamental tree.  Many cultivars have been developed.  Redbud is cultivated for its bright pink flowers, which open in spring before the tree canopy leafs out.  Redbud is entirely leafless when it blooms, and its branches, covered with tiny pink flowers, stand out in the bare forest.  A white-flowered form occurs naturally, and is also of horticultural interest.  A variety of Eastern redbud, called Texas redbud, or Cercis canadensis var. texana ( = Cercis reniformis) is found in the United States only in Texas and Oklahoma.  However, Oklahoma’s designation of the redbud as state tree is not specific to any variety, and many botanists do not recognized the distinction of these western variants.  A cultivar Cercis ‘Oklahoma’ is called the “Oklahoma Redbud.”  It was developed from plants discovered in the Arbuckle Mountians of Oklahoma.  It is distinctive for its glossy and thick leathery leaves.  This cultivar is ideal for planting in sunny dry sites.

Look for: small tree, mature at 15 feet high, reaching 40 feet at most; broad heart-shaped leaves, typically green, but may be dark reddish or highly glossy in some forms or cultivars; flowers usually bright pink or sometimes deeper rose colored or white, small and numerous, shaped like a pea flower, and emerging directly from the twigs, branches and trunk of trees prior to the leaves in spring; fruit like a thin bean pod, turning brown in the fall.

 

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) state tree of OREGON

In favorable conditions, the coastal Douglas-fir tree can grow to over 300 feet tall and  rival the redwood tree in size.  It is one of the most important western trees for its lumber value.  The tree received the name “Oregon pine” as it was a valuable timber tree in the original Oregon Territory.  Although the Oregon Territory became several different states, the name “Oregon pine” may have been instrumental in it being chosen as Oregon’s state tree.  Douglas-fir is not a pine, nor even a fir.  It is different enough to be classified in its own genus.  There are two varieties of Pseudotsuga menziesii, one with a distribution following the Cascade Range to northwestern California; the other with an inland range associated with the Rocky Mountains.  Both varieties occur in Oregon. 

Look for: tall coniferous tree; leaves are needles, held singly and not clustered, and lacking a peg-like base; cones 3 to 4 inches long, with a distinctive papery three-pronged bract protruding from under each scale of the cone.

 

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) state tree of PENNSYLVANIA

Eastern hemlock ranges from southeast Canada to the northeastern United States, and south along the Appalachian highlands to Georgia and Alabama.  In the Appalachians, hemlock favors protected coves along streams, where it is often accompanied by evergreen rhododendrons.  Hemlock is reported to be the most shade-tolerant of any tree species in the United States, and the tree is well suited to dark coves and gorges such as Ricketts Glen, one of Pennsylvania’s most scenic State Parks.  Hemlock is a large and graceful conifer, but it is not a premier lumber source.  Hemlock groves do not respond well to cutting, since the seedlings require the shaded moist habitat of the forest to regenerate.  An introduced insect pest, the Asian hemlock woolly adelgid, reached the East Coast of the United States in the 1960’s.  The adelgid has now spread through hemlock groves from New England to West Virginia.  Infestations rapidly overwhelm and kill the trees.  Valuable ancient hemlock stands, such as those along the Limberlost Trail in Shenandoah National Park, have been devastated.  The insect has been reported across the eastern half of Pennsylvania.

Look for: tall conifer; short soft flattened needles, ½ inch long; cones less than an inch long, with thin rounded scales.

 

Red maple (Acer rubrum) state tree of RHODE ISLAND

The red maple is a fast growing tree of medium height, under 100 feet.   It is not especially valuable as a source of lumber, but it is one of the most used ornamental shade trees in the eastern United States.  In autumn the leaves change to red, but with varying degrees of intensity in wild plants.  To grow a plant with reliable red fall color, a cultivar selected for this trait should be planted.  Red maple is found throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada.  The species is variable enough in the wild for three varieties to be recognized.  The number of cultivars is huge, and almost all are selections for leaf color characteristics. 

Look for: medium-size tree; opposite leaves with three broad lobes, with more teeth on the leaf margin than in the sugar maple; flowers small and dangling, bright red, emerging before the leaves in spring; winged seeds that spin as they fall.

 

Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca) state tree of SOUTH DAKOTA

The white spruce (Picea glauca) is a northern species that enters the United States principally in the northern states, from Maine to Idaho.  It is more common in Canada and Alaska.  The Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca var. densata) is a variety that is not always recognized by botanists as distinct from the common white spruce.  In part, this is because variation in white spruce has been found to involve hybridization with another species of spruce.  The Black Hills spruce is the only spruce native to South Dakota, and it is not widely distributed in the state.  It is localized to a few counties in the Black Hills region in the state’s southwest corner.  The Black Hills, most famous as the site of Mount Rushmore, are an isolated range on the western edge of the Great Plains.  The recognition of Black Hills spruce as distinct from white spruce is chiefly due to the isolation of its home range.  It also has been noted to have denser foliage, slower growth, and a greater tolerance to heat and drought, making this a desirable variety to plant in the upper plains region.

Look for: conifer tree to 90 feet tall; stiff evergreen needles, arranged singly along the branches, and with a tiny peg-shaped base; cones hanging downward from the stem, one to two inches long, with thin rounded scales.

 

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) state tree of TEXAS

In 1906, when Texas Governor James Hogg was on his deathbed, he requested a pecan tree be planted at the head of his grave instead of a headstone.  The Governor died soon after he made his request, and the pecan was planted as he had wished.  The Governor’s unique request was remembered by Texans, and it is credited for the choice of the pecan as the Texas state tree in 1919.  The pecan is a kind of hickory, generally considered to be the best-tasting of the hickories, and the most significant of the hickories as a nut crop.  Texas and Georgia are the largest producers of commercial pecans in the United States.  The pecan is a major agricultural tree, but not top ranked as an ornamental.  Pecans are difficult to transplant, and they cannot be counted on to produce good crops of nuts when used as landscape trees.  

Look for: medium to large size tree with spreading branches; leaves compound, with 9 to 17 leaflets, each 4 to 7 inches long, and the entire leaf up to 20 inches long; flowers greenish and insignificant, trees producing staminate and pistillate flowers on separate catkins; elongate nut enclosed in a fleshy husk that splits longitudinally; the edible pecan is the nut inside.

 

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) state tree of WASHINGTON

The state of Washington was conspicuously lacking a state tree in 1946.  This was pointed out by an Oregon newspaper, which used the situation to ridicule Washington.  But the paper also did some good by suggesting western hemlock as a potential choice.  In response, a Washington newspaper selected western red cedar (Thuja plicata) as candidate for state tree.  But Washington State Representative George Adams was a strong advocate of western hemlock.  He predicted the tree would become "the backbone of this state's forest industry."  His bill to make hemlock the state tree was passed a year later.  Western hemlock is a characteristic tree of the Pacific Northwest region, with a  distribution that follows the coastline.  A separate population occurs in the northern Rocky Mountains.  It is not the largest-growing, nor the most important timber tree in the region.  However it is fast-growing and a colonizing species with a strong potential for tree farming.  As an ornamental, western hemlock has performed well in cultivation in parts of Europe.  In the eastern United States, conditions are less favorable, and its cultivation at the National Arboretum must be considered experimental.

Look for: conifer growing to 180 feet tall, the growing tip often leaning or drooping; flat needles of variable length, under an inch long, rounded at the tip; small cones with rounded scales.

 

Plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides subsp. monilifera) state tree of WYOMING

Plains cottonwood was chosen as the state tree for Wyoming in 1947.  The choice was inspired by the presence of a huge specimen, approximately 50 feet tall, growing near Thermopolis, Wyoming.  It was thought to be the largest cottonwood in the world, until it burned down in 1955.  Cottonwoods are by nature short-lived trees when they eke out an existence on the Great Plains.  In 1961 Wyoming amended its state tree statute, when it was discovered that the original legislation did not list the Latin name correctly to specify Populus sargentii as the state tree.  Plains cottonwood has undergone several name changes, and currently most botanists consider it not to represent a distinct species (Populus sargentii) but rather a subspecies of the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides).

Look for: stout wide-branching tree; large wide simple leaves somewhat triangular in shape, often shiny, veins often pale to bright red; flowers in cylindrical catkins; followed in spring by tiny seeds with tufts of cottony hairs.

 

Red pine (Pinus resinosa) state tree of MINNESOTA

Red pine is named for its brownish-red scaly bark.  It also goes by the name of Norway pine, but geographically it is a native North American species, unlike Norway spruce or Norway maple.  Red pine is native to Canada and the northern United States around the Great Lakes and in New England. The tallest red pine in the country is 126 feet tall and grows in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park, but trees of this stature are rare.  The species is extensively planted for its ability to tolerate bad soils, exposed sites, cold and wind.

Look for: tall tree with brownish-red scaly bark; needles 4 to 6 inches long, in groups of two, brittle and snapping if bent; cones 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches long.

 

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) state tree of MONTANA

Ponderosa pine is widespread through western North America, where the tree forms expansive forests.  It is reported to be the most important pine for timber production in the west.  There was little controversy in its designation as the state tree of Montana, after it was chosen by schoolchildren in Helena.  It is Montana’s chief lumber tree.  Populations occurring in the Rocky Mountain region, including Montana, are recognized by some botanists as a distinct variety called mountain ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum).  Ponderosa pine tolerates a range of habitats in the west, but it is not well suited for cultivation in the eastern United States.

Look for: tall tree, bark is black on young trees, later becoming cinnamon colored and emitting a faint odor of vanilla; needles 5 to 10 inches long in groups of 2 to 3; cones 3 to 6 inches long, with a prickle on each scale.

Ifil, ifit (Intsia bijuga) tree of GUAM

The ifil tree is a medium to large tree native to coastal areas and rain forests across a wide area of the tropics.  It is found in American Samoa, Australia, Guam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Polynesia, and other regions around the Indian Ocean.  Mangrove swamps are the preferred habitat of the ifil, although it may also occur inland, especially along rain forest streams and floodplains.  The tree’s timber, often called “merbau,” is a premium hardwood, desired for its strength and durability.  The wood also is used to produce a dye.  The value of ifil wood has led to extensive harvest of the trees, to the extent that they are now rare in many parts of its range.  The tree has good potential for development as a plantation crop.

Look for: medium to large tree, often with a buttressed base; leaves are dark green, compound with two to four leaflets; flowers white to pink, in clusters; fruit is a leathery bean pod, four to twelve inches long.

Guam is not represented in the plantings of the National Grove of State Trees.

 

Flame tree, royal poinciana (Delonix regia) tree of the NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

The flame tree is a native of Madagascar.  The very attractive flowers, and ease of cultivation in warm regions, have resulted in widespread horticultural use of flame tree.  It is a fast-growing plant, but usually requires over ten years to grow to tree-size before producing its charismatic flowers.  This is a tropical tree and it cannot be grown in places that experience a hard frost.  In the mainland United States, it may be encountered in cultivation in southern California and southern Florida.

Look for: medium-sized tree; leaves compound and fern-like, with small leaflets, semi-evergreen in constant climates, deciduous if given a dry season; flowers with five bright scarlet peals, the banner petal with white and orange zones, flowers in clusters; fruit a bean pod to two feet long.

The Northern Mariana Islands are not represented in the plantings of the National Grove of State Trees.

 

Silk-cotton tree, kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) tree of PUERTO RICO

The silk-cotton tree is native to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as much of the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, and western Africa.  It has been widely planted elsewhere in the tropics.  In the Amazon rain forest, silk-cotton tree is among the largest trees, reaching up to 200 feet tall.  Young trunks and branches are covered with large wide pyramidal spines, giving the plant the nickname “monkey-no-climb”.  However the spines are not particularly sharp and it is not certain that they play a role in defense against climbing animals.  The fruits contain white fibers or “floss” which were used to stuff kapok life preservers as flotation devices for naval use in the early 1900’s.  Kapok was also used to stuff seat cushions and mattresses.  Later, the use of kapok was discouraged because the fibers are flammable.  Fiber uses are arguably the most well-known economic role for silk-cotton tree.  However the light, soft, wood has been utilized for pulpwood, and the trunks of trees have been used to make large dugout canoes.

Look for:  tall tree, often forming a wide buttressed base, gray bark with large wide pyramidal spines, most noticeable on young trunks or on branches; leaves palmately compound with five to nine leaflets, deciduous in the dry season; large five-petalled pink to white flowers open at night and are pollinated by bats; fruits large and oblong, dangling from the branches, containing brown seeds with white fibers (the cotton) which aids in wind dispersal of the seeds.

Puerto Rico is not represented in the plantings of the National Grove of State Trees.

 

PRINT REFERENCES

Native Trees for North American Landscapes, by Guy Sternberg and Jim Wilson.  2004.  Timber Press.

The Complete Trees of North America by Thomas S. Elias.  1980.  Van Nostrand Reihhold Company.

Manual of Wood Landscape Plants by Michael A. Dirr.  1998.  Stipes Publishing.

 

WEB REFERENCES

Forest Service Tree List
http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/index.html

Netstate.com
http://www.netstate.com/states/index.html

USDA Plants Database
http://plants.usda.gov/

U.S. State Symbols
http://www.shgresources.com/resources/symbols/trees/

Virginia Tech Dendrology
http://www.cnr.vt.edu/dendro/LandownerFactsheets/index.htm


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Last Updated   June 12, 2009 2:18 PM
URL = http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/collections/statetreetrivia.html

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