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What Is the State Tree of Montana? Facts & FAQ

ponderosa pine trees

Montana may be Big Sky Country, but that does not mean it doesn’t have a lot of gorgeous trees. The state tree of Montana is a western staple, the ponderosa pine. Montana is a state rich in natural resources and large swaths of natural beauty. The ponderosa pine is an excellent choice for Montana’s state tree because it offers both of those things, just like the state that chose it. Ponderosa pines are large regal trees that thrive in the wild. Ponderosa pines are also trees rich in natural resources and have been a cornerstone of western American timber industries for over a century.

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Ponderosa Pine Overview

Ponderosa Pine
Image Credit: azboomer, Pixabay
Scientific name Pinus ponderosa
Height 100 – 200 feet
Age 300+ years

Ponderosa pines are large trees with straight trunks that blanket the American west. These trees can grow upwards of 100 feet tall with a 30-foot spread. In old growth areas where these trees thrive, there have been examples of ponderosa pines that have swelled to over 200 feet tall. These trees are extremely hardy, which is one of the reasons why they resonate so well with the people in the West. Ponderosa pines have adapted to live in a variety of different environments, including arid lands, places with high winds or frequent fires, and at high elevations. They can be found bordering deserts, in dry valleys, or on the top of soaring rocky ridges.

Ponderosa pines are known for their long, tough needles and bare branches. They also produce cones that can grow to 6” in length. The trees reportedly emit a sweet aroma that is frequently carried by the wind. While ponderosa pine is the tree’s official name (and even its scientific name), it has been known by a large number of names over the years, including western yellow pine, bull pine, blackjack pine, western red pine, Sierra brown bark pine, heavy pine, and western pitch pine.

ponderosa pine
Image Credit: Pixabay

How the Ponderosa Pine Was Selected

The process of making the ponderosa pine the official state tree of Montana took decades to come to fruition. The process began in 1908. A survey went out to the school-aged children of Montana’s major hub, Helena asking them which tree they believed best represented their home state. The children were asked to choose between the ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, American larch, and cottonwood trees. The results of the poll were not even close. Ponderosa pine won by a landslide.

Despite the emphatic win for the ponderosa pine in 1908, the measure would not be made official for forty years. The tree remained the unofficial state tree for decades as the state legislature dragged its feet over making it official. The issue of naming a state tree came up again in 1949, but the original survey was conducted so long ago that many of the school children who had voted on the original measure were aging.

In order to ensure that the ponderosa pine remained the state’s best choice for a state tree, the Montana Federation of Garden Clubs waged a yearlong campaign. The Montana Federation of Garden Clubs stumped for the ponderosa pine in the leadup to the vote. After 41 years, a long campaign, and a universal love, the Montana state legislature voted to make the ponderosa pine the official state tree of Montana. The bill passed in 1949, and the ponderosa pine has been the state tree ever since.

Image Credit: TZIDO SUN, Shutterstock

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The entire western half of Montana is blanketed by ponderosa pines of all shapes and sizes. The ponderosa pine is rugged, recognizable, and a wealth of natural riches, just like the state it represents. School children aptly chose the tree in 1908, and the politicians finally made it official in 1949. The ponderosa pine has been the official state tree of Montana for over 70 years.


Featured Image Credit: Dominic Gentilcore PhD, Shutterstock

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