Column: Some odd facts about all those state trees

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 19, 2002

Not long ago I happened to find some information about state trees. That’s right, along with birds and food items and critters, every American state has a tree as part of its official list of symbols or whatevers. And here in the Gopher State we have the Red Pine.

The pine seems to be the most popular of the trees used as symbols by the various states. In fact, eight other states have this tree on their official whatevers lists. However, there are different types of pine trees growing in the woods and forests. Arkansas isn’t fussy at all. They list pine (no special kind); Maine and Michigan list the Eastern White Pine. North Carolina and Alabama have the Long-leaf Pine as their official trees. Montana uses the Ponderosa Pine, Idaho has the Western White Pine, and for some odd reason Alabama also lists the Southern Pine as its second official tree.

One tree, the Sugar Maple, is the most popular choice for a state tree. It’s listed as the official symbol or whatever for New York, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

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I always thought the long rows of utility poles across the lonely prairies of North Dakota were the symbolic trees for this state. It’s actually the Elm.

One tree, the Buckeye, is also known as the horse chestnut. Those nuts are supposed to be lucky. Anyway, this tree has become the basis for Ohio’s nickname of Buckeye State.

Other states with trees as part of their official nicknames are: Maine, Pine tree; Mississippi, Magnolia; South Carolina, Palmetto; and Washington, Evergreen.

In fact, four of the nation’s new quarters feature trees. The first one, issued in 1999, displays the historic Charter Oak of Connecticut. Another 1999 quarter illustrates the peachy Peach as part of the Georgia design. The 2000 quarter issued for South Carolina emphasizes that this is the Palmetto state. The fourth quarter came out last year to salute Vermont and shows a man standing between two Sugar Maple trees.

Before changing the focus of this column to a related topic, maybe the official trees of two more of the bordering states should be mentioned. The White Spruce is the South Dakota tree, and the Oak (no special kind) stands tall for Iowa.

Now, let’s consider where all these and the other trees actually grow in the nation. A listing I found indicates the percentage of land occupied by trees in the woods and forests for each American state.

Leading this list is Maine with 90 percent. Next is New Hampshire with 86 percent, followed by West Virginia’s 79 percent, Vermont with 76 percent, and Alabama’s 68 percent. The nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island, is 13th on the list with 61 percent of land covered with trees.

And just how large is Rhode Island? One way to indicate the answer is to combine Freeborn and Mower counties as one unit. These two counties together are larger than Rhode Island with about 150 square miles left over.

Wisconsin is 27th on the list with 46 percent. Then there’s Alaska with 35 percent, despite all the tundras and glaciers, in 30th place. Next, in 31st place, is Minnesota with 33 percent. This indicates the term North Woods has real meaning, and that the rest of the state is either residential and commercial property or productive farm land.

Right at the bottom of this list are the final five. Iowa has six percent, South Dakota and Kansas have three percent each, and Nebraska and North Dakota have just two percent each for forest and wood lands.