What Is the State Tree of Oklahoma? How Was It Decided?
Oklahoma has some breathtaking state symbols from the majestic American Bison to the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, to the beautiful Oklahoma Rose. Their state tree is certainly an impressive symbol too. The Eastern Redbud is a vibrant small tree that was officially adopted as a state emblem in 1937, 20 years after statehood was established.
Oklahoma has a very interesting history that is full of controversy regarding the selection of state symbols. Read on to learn more about this Eastern Redbud and how it secured its place as the official state tree.
The Eastern Redbud Tree
The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is native to North America and ranges across the eastern United States and even up into Canada through Southern Ontario. It is considered a large deciduous shrub or small tree and is best known for its gorgeous, bright magenta-colored flowers that bloom during the first part of spring.
These trees grow relatively quickly considering their smaller size, typically gaining at least one foot per year. They reach a maximum height range of 20 to 30 feet and a spread of 25 to 35 feet. They typically bloom during March while other plants remain dormant. In the fall, the foliage will range from purplish red, to orange, and yellow.
The Eastern Redbud in Oklahoma
The Eastern Redbud grows densely throughout most of Oklahoma except for the far west portion of the state. They fare best in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. You will notice these trees are commonly used as ornamental trees that line city streets throughout the state and are found in many residential areas
You can certainly expect to find the Eastern Redbud at local nurseries, as it is a highly revered symbol of the state that adds a beautiful, vibrant touch to any landscape. They are highly tolerant of shade and are typically found in their natural habitat throughout forests under larger trees. Oklahoma’s state insect, the Honeybee will cross-pollinate the tree once the flowers bloom.
Becoming a State Symbol
The general chairman of the Oklahoma City Beautification Committee, Maimee Lee Robinson Browne, aimed her focus at the conservation of the Eastern Redbud. She led planting campaigns and raised awareness about the tree while pushing for it to become an official state symbol.
Browne’s push for the Eastern Redbud’s state symbolism was met with much controversy during the 1930s. This controversy became known as the “Oklahoma Redbud War.” While Browne was advocating to have the tree recognized by the state government, a Tulsa resident by the name of Roberta Lawson interrupted the process by sending a telegram to the governor claiming that the tree symbolized a disgrace to Jesus Christ.
Roberta had mistaken the Eastern Redbud for the Judas Tree, which according to the Bible, Judas Iscariot used to hang himself from after he betrayed Jesus. She sought to derail the tree’s state recognition and deemed it an inappropriate move. The controversy put a halt to the process and made it to national news.
The controversy was put to an end when an Oklahoma resident by the name of John Iskian cleared up the confusion. John was a native of Jerusalem and advised that the Eastern Redbud was an entirely separate species of tree known as the Judas Tree.
Designation as a State Emblem
After the controversy was settled, the Eastern Redbud became designated as an official state emblem under Governor E. W. Marland. It was officially declared the state tree of Oklahoma on June 24, 1971.
Browne continued her Eastern Redbud planting campaigns, which led them to become widespread throughout the state within a couple of years. In 1939, Legislature declared it illegal to harm the Eastern Redbuds that grow along Oklahoma’s highways.
The Eastern Redbud was officially declared an official state emblem in 1937 and an official state tree in 1971 after much controversy. Once the dust had settled and it was confirmed that the Eastern Redbud and the Judas Tree that grows throughout southern Europe and Western Asia are separate species, it solidified the Eastern Redbud’s spot in Oklahoma history.
- Related Read: 20 Types of Trees in Oklahoma
Featured Image Credit: Sergey and Marina Pyataev, Shutterstock