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What Is the State Tree of Washington? History & Symbolism

Mountain Hemlock

Washington has its own rich, unique culture that sets it apart from other US states, and like all states, they’ve chosen a number of symbols to represent the state. California has the legendary redwood, and Washington’s state tree is the western hemlock. Let’s check out more about this tree, how it was chosen as the state’s official tree, and other interesting info about the Evergreen State’s other symbols.

trees & plants divider What Is the Western Hemlock?

The western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is a coniferous evergreen tree native to North America’s northwestern coast, ranging from Oregon all the way up to Vancouver. It’s worth noting that although it’s poisonous, it’s not related to the poisonous herb that supposedly killed the philosopher Socrates. The shared name is because the tree apparently has a similar odor to the herb.

This species is the largest type of hemlock tree known to man, with some specimens reaching as high as 195 feet and 1,200 years old. Some populations of the tree also live in Idaho and Montana.

Western hemlocks are notorious for the thick shade that their dense canopies cast. When young, they thrive underneath other conifers, but once mature their canopies block the other trees from getting enough sunlight. Western hemlocks are speculated to be a climax species, which means if left alone, they would dominate the Pacific Northwest.

Because of their rampant growth, western hemlocks are one of the biggest sources of lumber in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, this was a factor in the tree becoming Washington’s state tree.

Western Hemlock
Image By:, Shutterstock

How Was the Western Hemlock Chosen as Washington’s State Tree?

According to Washington legislation, an Oregon newspaper mocked Washington in 1946 for not having a state tree. The Portland Oregonian chose the western hemlock for the state, while newspapers in Washington chose the more popular western red cedar. Ultimately, though, the decision was up to the state legislature.

US House Representative George Adams personally pleaded with the Washington state legislature to choose the western hemlock, which Adams promised would, “become the backbone of this state’s forest industry.” The plea must have been convincing because the legislature officially adopted the western hemlock as the state tree a year later in 1947.

Why Is the Western Hemlock Suitable as Washington’s State Tree?

The main reason is the tree’s prevalence across the state, which made it an abundant source of lumber for the logging industry. Its extraordinary shade tolerance allows it to survive underneath other towering trees before overtaking them in maturity, which could be interpreted as a symbol of the state’s resilience.

What do you think about when you think of Washington? Probably snow, hipster cafes, and vast expanses of evergreen forest. You may not have realized it, but most of those trees are western hemlocks.

Eastern Hemlock_Mammiya_Pixabay
Image Credit: Mammiya, Pixabay

What Other State Symbols Does Washington Have?

Like other states, Washington has its fair share of symbols. According to the state legislature, symbols are typically the result of a concerted effort by citizens, schoolchildren, and other organizations. The process begins with research, followed by a request to the legislature to pass a bill naming the item as a state symbol. Let’s check out some of the state’s other symbols.

The state’s other symbols:
  • State Animal: Olympic marmot
  • State Bird: Willow goldfinch
  • State Flower: Coast rhododendron
  • State Song: “Washington, My Home” by Helen Davis & Stuart Churchill
  • State Marine Mammal: Orca

trees & plants divider Conclusion

Washington has some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the US, with iconic evergreen forests sweeping across the state. As one of the most robust trees and sources of lumber in the PNW, the western hemlock was an apt choice for the state tree.

Featured Image Credit: Mary Key, Shutterstock


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