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What Is the State Tree of North Dakota? Characteristic, Origins, & Uses

American Elm tree

North Dakota was admitted to the Union as the 39th state in the United States in 1889. North Dakota is nicknamed Peace Garden State, Roughrider State, or Flickertail State. It’s also called The Sioux State. This state has several state symbols, one of them being the state tree- the American elm (Ulmus Americana). The tree also doubles up as the state tree of Massachusetts.

Elms have long been prized for their beauty, strength, and endurance. This tree was specifically chosen as the state tree because it constitutes part of North Dakota’s history, culture, and landscape.

The American elm produces green foliage during the spring and summer months. In late summer, it will turn bright yellow before dropping its leaves in autumn. It is even a popular street tree because it grows fast, developing a dense canopy.

In this handy guide, we’ll discuss several characteristics of the state tree of North Dakota, how it became the state tree, its uses, and other notable symbols in North Dakota. But first, where did it originate from?

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Origin of the American Elm

The American elm is one of the most widely planted and admired trees worldwide. It has a long and rich history in North America. It is believed to have originated in eastern Asia about 20 million years ago,  before it spread throughout North America and Europe. It was first introduced to North America by the European settlers.

Native Americans used the American elm as a meeting point where they conducted tribal meetings in the past. These days, the American elm is popular with homeowners who want an easy way to shade their houses.

American Elm Tree
American Elm Tree (Image By: Marty Aligata, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International)

How Was the State Tree of North Dakota Decided?

The American elm is the largest elm species. It was one of the most popular trees in cities before the outbreak of the Dutch elm disease.

The tree was adopted by The North Dakota Legislative Assembly as the official state tree in 1947. The tree was chosen because it’s mostly found in North Dakota. Another reason was its graceful form and massive size.

The American elm also occurs in Nova Scotia, Montana, Alberta, and central Texas. It’s a hardy tree that endures extremely low temperatures. It can live long if it’s not affected by the Dutch elm disease.

Top 6 Characteristics of the American Elm

The American elm is a deciduous tree, meaning that the leaves usually fall off during the dry season or in winter. It grows in various habitats including waterways, forests, and fields.

The tree has various characteristics that make it valuable to the state and its people. Here are some of them:

1. Leaves

The American elm has long (3 to 6 inches) and thin leaves resembling those of a maple tree but broader. They’re double-serrated and have straight veins. Also, they are smooth, not hairy like some other types of trees. The leaves grow in clusters at the tip of branches and the base of twigs. They are usually dark green in summer, turning yellow in autumn before falling off.

The underside of each leaf has two veins running down its center vein. They can be thickened at times, making them look like three veins instead of two. The leaf also has a distinctive tooth or notch at its base between these veins and the leaf stalk. It helps distinguish this tree from other elm species.

2. Bark

The bark is dark brown with furrows running vertically down the trunk. It sheds in strips that curl back and hang like paper lanterns from branches. On younger trees, the bark isn’t smooth but scaly. It’s also greenish-gray with broad ridges running horizontally across it. As the tree ages, it develops furrows between these ridges. They become more noticeable as the tree matures.

3. Flowers

The American elm is among the first trees to bloom- the flowers are small and don’t usually have petals. The tree is monoecious, meaning the male and female parts are in different flowers but on the same tree.

Female flowers are greenish-yellow catkins. They appear before the leaves in late spring or early summer. Male flowers are tiny brown cones that form on short stalks near the branch tips. They develop from mid-May through June. Both male and female flowers drop off soon after they open, so you will not see any seeds if there’s no pollination.

4. Tree Trunk and Branches

The American elm’s trunk can grow up to 5 feet wide at its base. This large trunk gives the tree stability against strong winds and snow loads. The tree’s branches are wide-spreading, giving it an open and airy look and feel.

The lower branches grow relatively long. The upper branches grow upward at a sharp angle from the trunk. They hang down sturdily from the tree trunk in a graceful curve that creates a beautiful silhouette when viewed from below.

5. Height

Many mature American elms can reach up to 60 or 80 feet. Some of them can grow to heights of up to 100 feet.

Large American Elm Tree
Large American Elm Tree ((Image By: Marty Aligata, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International)

6. Fruits

The tree produces fruits known as samaras. They are small, flat, and round fruits with a notch at the apex. They have only one seed that’s either yellow or green.

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Uses of the American Elm

The American Elm is a magnificent tree, perfect for both large and small landscapes. It’s known for its sweeping canopies that make it a versatile addition to any landscape.

Besides landscaping, there are several other uses for this tree. Let’s look at some of the uses.

Medicinal Uses

The American elm has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Native Americans used the inner bark to treat diarrhea and dysentery. They also used it to make tea, which reduced fever and relieve pain associated with sore throats and coughs.

These days, you can dip the bark of the American elm in a liquid to make medicine. It treats colds, coughs, ruptures, influenza, and eye infections. The inner bark can make a decoction that you can drink to treat severe coughs and appendicitis. It also relieves menstrual cramps.

Sunbeams through American Elm Trees
Image Credit: abinctavian, Shutterstock


The leaves and inner bark of the American elm are edible. The leaves have a bitter taste, but they can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best when young and tender because they become tough as they age. You can use the red inner bark to prepare a coffee-like beverage.


The wood from the American Elm is durable, heavy, and strong. It is used as a base material in making more durable wood flooring that is resilient to wear and tear. The wood is also naturally resistant to warping or cupping, but you can laminate it with other materials like pine or oak to enhance its stability.

Street Decoration

American Elms are often planted along streets, sidewalks and other pedestrian areas to provide shade while still allowing some light through their leaves. As its large leaves provide shade during hot days, they also allow plenty of sunlight during cooler weather. Plants beneath them can grow well.

Apart from the above uses, you can use the inner bark of the American elm to make strong ropes and strings. The inner bark is fibrous, so it’s fit for this purpose. The tree’s wood can also be used to make wheel hubs, agricultural tools, and cooperage.

Point to Note:
  • The American elm is an endangered species due to a harmful microorganism known as Dutch elm disease. That’s why these trees have reduced drastically in North Dakota.
  • The good news is that cultivars resistant to the Dutch elm disease are developing.

Other State Symbols in North Dakota

The legislature adopts state symbols to represent specific locations. Some are due to historic events, and some come from a popular vote. These symbols are selected wisely because they reflect a crucial aspect of a state.

North Dakota also has many state symbols representing the beauty, history, and heritage of the state. The North Dakota Legislative Assembly has officiated more than 15 state symbols since 1889.

Here are some of the most popular symbols in North Dakota.

  State Symbol Year Adopted
State Beverage Milk 1983
State Bird Western Meadowlark 1947
State Capitol Bismarck 1889
Coat of Arms 1957
State Dance Square Dance 1995
State Fish Northern Pike (Esox lucius) 1969
State Flag 1911
State Flower Wild Prairie Rose (Rosa Arkansana) 1907
State Fossil Teredo Petrified Wood 1967
State Fruit Chokecherry (Prunus Virginiana) 2007
State Grass Western Wheatgrass 1977
State Seal North Dakota Great Seal 1987
Honorary State Equine Nokota Horse 1993
State Insect The Ladybug (Convergent Lady Beetle) 2011
State Language English 1987
State Motto Liberty and Union Now and Forever, One and Inseparable 1863
State Song North Dakota Hymn 1947
State Quarter (A 25-cents coin) It’s equal to ¼ of a dollar 2006
State Animal Bison 1922

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The official state tree of North Dakota (American elm) is a towering tree found across the northern United States and eastern Canada. In this guide, we have provided a little more insight into the history of this tree and why it has a special place in its people.

The tree has various uses as a medicinal product, ornamental tree, and food source. So, now you know more about the state tree of North Dakota and how it came to be. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about it so that you appreciate it more the next time you visit this state.

Featured Image Credit: Richyjh, Shutterstock


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