What Is the State Tree of Utah? How Was It Decided?
In 2014 the Colorado Blue Spruce lost its reign as Utah’s state tree. This change occurred when fourth-grade students of Monroe Elementary in Sevier County felt that the Blue Spruce did not adequately represent Utah. So, which tree took over its reign?
The Utah State Legislature designated the Quaking Aspen as the state tree in 2014.
The Quaking Aspen is named after its spade-shaped leaves and is also commonly known as the trembling Aspen. They are one of Utah’s most beautiful trees as they turn yellow in the fall and tremble in a light breeze. Because of its ability to self-propagate, the popular tree has little chance of extinction and is primarily used in Utah for fence poles, buildings, and firewood.
Why Did Utah Change the State Tree?
For eighty years, the blue spruce was the official state tree. The Utah Cattlemen’s Association fought back, fearing that officially choosing the Juniper would threaten the state’s Juniper removal program, which was opening up more grazing land for cattle.
Governor Gary Hebert and his Rural Partnership Board were petitioned in September 2013 during a tour of central Utah by a group of fourth graders from Monroe Elementary School to change the state tree from the Blue Spruce to the Quaking Aspen. Sevier County Commissioner, Gordon Topham, proposed that the students present their idea as part of the executive’s “Capital for a Day” rural tour.
The students believed, along with the support of their teacher, Angie Blomquist, that the Blue Spruce is a Colorado tree and is therefore not fitting as the Utah state tree. The idea that the Blue Spruce was a “Colorado” tree rather than a “Utah” tree is incorrect, as the Blue Spruce can be found in Utah, Colorado, and several other western and eastern states. Utah also adopted the Blue Spruce 6 years before Colorado.
Why the Quaking Aspen?
Those in support of choosing the Quaking Aspen provided some valid reasons for the change.
Firstly, it was stated that the Quaking Aspen makes up 10% of the state’s forest cover and is more common than the Blue Spruce.
According to Paul Rogers of the Western Aspen Alliance, Utah is home to Pando, the world’s largest living organism, which is a cluster of Quaking Aspen trees near Fish Lake in Sevier County that covers an estimated 106 acres of land. Aspen trees are mostly genetic clones that spread from the root system, hence the name Pando, which is Latin for “I spread.” He also explained that any Utahn could identify a quaking Aspen when exploring the mountains.
Senator Pat Jones compared the aspen’s characteristics to the people of the state. She compared the connectivity of the aspen root system to that of the people of the state. She also referred to the Aspens as survivors, a sentiment shared by many Utah residents.
The Final Vote
The bill was sent to the full Senate for a vote. With three senators absent, the remaining Senators unanimously approved Senate Bill No. 41 on February 10, 2014, and forwarded it to the State House of Representatives for consideration.
The approved bill designating the Quaking Aspen as the new official tree of the state of Utah was finally signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 25, 2014. The next day, Governor Herbert traveled to Monroe for a ceremonial signing with the students who had brought the idea forward. He signed the document with Quaking Aspen pens while sitting in a rocking chair at a desk made from Aspen wood.
Characteristics of the Quaking Aspen
The Quaking Aspen has the widest range of any other tree in North America and is the largest living organism. It stands up to 40 feet tall and has distinctive leaves that tremble in the breeze, contributing to its name. The bark is smooth and marked with black scars where branches lower down have been self-pruned. In spring and summer, the leaves are a rich green hue with a glossy finish; in the fall, the leaves are a gorgeous warm hue of gold and yellow.
- A grove of quaking aspens in Utah is the largest known living thing on the planet.
- A single root system sprouts nearly 50,000 stems.
- The entire organism is more than 100 acres in size and weighs 6,000 tons.
- It is called a Quaking Aspen because of the long, flat stems that make the leaves shake in the slightest of breezes.
- According to the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, Aspen branches were once boiled down to make a cleaner for guns, traps, buckskins, and stinky humans.
- Quaking Aspen is used to make chopsticks that are exported to other countries.
The Quaking Aspen, being one of the most beautiful trees in Utah, seems to be a fitting choice as Utah’s state tree. It is amazing how the knowledge and confidence of fourth graders were catalysts to this tree taking its reign. Next time you marvel at a Quaking Aspen, you can also marvel at its story of how it became the state tree of Utah.
Featured Image Credit: Sulae, Shutterstock