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What Is the State Tree of South Dakota? History, Characteristics, & FAQ

black spruce close up

Every state in the USA carries its own history, culture, and heritage. Therefore, each state has symbols that represent the state and highlight its accomplishments and diversity. Most states have state flags, flowers, animals, and trees that celebrate the state’s uniqueness.

South Dakota has numerous state symbols that reflect the beauty of this state, but the one that stands out the most is South Dakota’s state tree—the Black Hills Spruce.

In this article, we will provide information about why and how the Black Hills Spruce was selected as the state tree of South Dakota and give more details about this tree species.

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The History Behind the State Tree of South Dakota

Although various tree species grow in South Dakota, the Black Hills Spruce is the most popular among them. There’s a lot of controversy on how the tree was selected for the state tree, as there were clashing opinions on which tree should get this title.

While the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, the North Dakota State University Extension Service, and the North and Central American Forestry Association were among organizations that wanted the Black Hills Spruce as the state tree, others wanted to select different trees.

The first organization that suggested choosing the Black Hills Spruce for the state tree was the Joint Committee on Horticulture. Still, the proposition came to opposition by people who thought that Cottonwood would be a better choice to represent South Dakota. The reason is that it has a widespread distribution throughout the state.

Also, others wanted Cedar or Juniper to represent the state. There was voting for people who wanted to select different trees, and a joint community had to weigh the final decision. In the end, the Committee gave their nomination for the Black Hills Spruce tree. The Senate and the House accepted this proposition in 1947.

The Black Hills Spruce Characteristics

Common Name Black Hills Spruce, Alberta White Spruce, Skunk Spruce, Cat Spruce
Scientific Name Picea Glauca
Origin Black Hills of South Dakota
USDA Hardiness Zone 3 to 6
Flower Color Non-flowering
Bloom Time Non-flowering

The Black Hills Spruce is a stunning, evergreen tree native to North America. You can find this species in South Dakota’s Black Hills, and many people plant this tree in their yards to beautify their landscape.

This spruce is easy to take care of, making it the perfect option for people who don’t have a lot of time to spend on their landscape upkeep. However, it does require more maintenance during the first couple of years after planting until the tree reaches maturity, where it can grow on its own.

The Black Hills Spruce grows in a pyramidal shape, reaching a mature height between 20 and 40 feet and a mature width between 10 and 15 feet. What makes this tree unique are the needles that vary in color, ranging from green to blue.

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Black Hills Spruce Growing Requirements and Tips

If you want to plant the Black Hills Spruce in your yard, you should get familiar with the growing requirements of this species to help it thrive. Below are some useful tips and guidelines to help your Black Hills Spruce thrive.


The Black Hills Spruce prefers locations in full or partial sun, but it can also grow in shaded areas if your yard doesn’t have the best light conditions. It’s helpful to provide this tree with at least 6 hours of direct sun exposure to reach its true potential. Otherwise, it would grow a lot slower than usual.


Once you plant a Black Hills Spruce, it will need frequent waterings to establish its roots. However, when the roots establish, the tree won’t need a lot of water. Provide your tree with weekly waterings in the first couple of years, unless it’s the rainy season.

If there’s a drought, you’ll need to increase the watering schedule multiple times per week to prevent the tree from drying. You should also avoid overwatering as that could kill the tree due to its flood-intolerance properties.


When it comes to soil requirements, the Black Hills Spruce is very adaptable, and it can do well in any type of soil, such as:

  • Clay
  • Loamy
  • Sandy

However, the soil should be well-draining and slightly alkaline or acidic. If needed, it might help to do a soil pH test and amend the soil if it’s missing a specific component that would promote the growth of your tree.

Temperature and Humidity

The Black Hills Spruce adapts well to dry conditions, colder summers, and colder winters. That’s why this tree can only grow in USDA hardiness zones between 3 and 6. If you’re planning on planting this tree on a lower elevation, you should allow room for airflow coming from the wind, which will help it dry out.

This tree won’t succeed in areas that are too humid and warm, which is something to keep in mind before planting.


There is no need to fertilize your Black Hills Spruce. However, it wouldn’t hurt to add organic compost into the soil where you want to plant the tree. That will enrich it and add the nutrients the tree needs to prosper.

If you notice your tree is not developing properly, there might be a soil issue, so you should have it tested.

Black Hills Spruce – Possible Issues

Like every other three, the Black Hills Spruce is susceptible to specific pests and diseases, which can cause serious issues if you don’t treat them in time. Here is a list of the most common problems you can experience with your Black Hills Spruce:

  • Lirula Needle Blight: This is a fungal disease on the tree, becoming worse as time passes. It typically takes 3 years to fully develop, causing the needles to become brown, fall down, or appear dead. Lirula needle blight can cause severe harm to your Black Hills Spruce, so you should treat it with fungicides.
  • Rhizosphaera Needle Cast: This fungal condition affects your Black Hills Spruce between mid and late summer. The fungus attacks the needles in lower branches, typically near the trunk, causing them to fall off a year after they get the infection. You can avoid this disease by providing enough water to your tree during drought, and if it still happens, fungicides will help you to resolve the problem.
  • Cytospora Canker: This is another fungal disease, and it can be highly destructive for your Black Hills Spruce. It starts on the lower branches, quickly spreading and reaching the top branches as well. If your tree is infected, the needles will become brown and die, while the bark will secrete resin, typically referred to as canker. If you treat this condition with fungicides, your tree should quickly recover and become healthy.
  • Bagworms: These pests could damage your Black Hills Spruce if not treated in time. They attack the tree, encasing themselves in so-called bags made of twigs, silk, and leaves. The female lays eggs, and the infestation quickly spreads leading to the browning of needles and eventual death of your tree. However, you can use insecticides to get rid of these harmful critters.

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Final Words

South Dakota is the only state that gets to have the honor to call the Black Hills Spruce its state tree. Although it wasn’t easy to make this decision, this tree definitely represents the beauty and uniqueness of South Dakota, which is why people of this lovely state value it.

Featured Image Credit: oleg.z, Shutterstock


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