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What Is the State Tree of Alaska? How Was It Decided?

Sitka Spruce Trees

Alaska was the second to last state to join the Union. Alaska did not become a state until January of 1959 and was only succeeded by Hawai’i, which became a state in the summer of 1959. That meant that Alaska had a lot of catching up to do in terms of forging an official state identity.

Other more established states adopted their state flags, state seals, state mottos, state trees, and state flowers years or even decades ago. Alaska did not want to spend decades debating its state symbols, so the Alaska legislature began choosing its preferred icons as soon as statehood was obtained.

The official state tree of Alaska is the Sitka spruce. The Sitka spruce was chosen as the official state tree in 1962 because of its size, grandeur, and importance to the Alaskan economy and people.

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Sitka Spruce Facts

The Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is a fitting choice for the state tree of Alaska for multiple reasons. First, the tree is named for Sitka Sound, which is located in Alaska. Second, the Sitka spruce is the tallest species of conifer tree found anywhere on Earth. Like Alaska itself, the Sitka spruce is the largest in its class.

The Sitka spruce blankets the coastal regions of Alaska, running from the Canadian border all along the wet temperate coastlines. The tree was the backbone of the Alaskan timber industry for generations. The tree’s large size and abundance made it the perfect crop for loggers looking for quality timber to export.

Sitka spruce trees can grow well over 300 feet tall and can produce trunks in excess of 6 feet in diameter. These trees grow so large thanks to the extremely wet conditions present along Alaska’s southern coasts. High amounts of rainfall coupled with bouts of dense urban fog produce enough moisture to supercharge the growth of these trees until they explode in height. Like Alaska itself, these trees stand majestically farther north than anything else in the United States and are extremely large, regal, and storied.

How Was It Chosen?

After Alaska officially became a state in 1959, they wasted no time debating the official symbols for the state. The state seal, the state flag, and the state flower were all quickly adopted in 1959 from the previous territorial era. After these things had been settled, the next batch of decisions included the official state tree and the official state fish. These two issues were taken up simultaneously in 1962 because the fishing industry and the logging industry were so important to the state that they wanted to enshrine these symbols quickly.

The Sitka spruce is an extremely well-known tree, well respected, well renowned, and much-loved tree in Alaska. This was true at the time as well, and the state legislature quickly brought up and adopted the Sitka spruce as the official state tree of Alaska. There were no other trees in serious consideration for the position.

The official state fish was also chosen alongside the Sitka spruce. The official state fish of Alaska is the Chinook salmon. Together the Sitka spruce and the salmon represented the heart and soul of Alaska as a brand-new state in 1962.

The Sitka spruce remains the state tree of Alaska after 60 years.

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Conclusion

The Sitka spruce is the largest conifer tree in the world and is the official state tree of the largest state in the United States. The tree was quickly chosen for its characteristics after Alaska became a state in 1959. The Sitka spruce is native to Alaska and deeply connected to the people and history of the state.


Featured Image Credit: Peter Turner Photography, Shutterstock

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