Happy Diamond Anniversary Pseudotsuga menziesii
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Oregon Legislature declaring the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) as the official state tree. For much of the nation’s history, most Americans eyed trees simply as lumber or as obstacles to be cleared so they could farm the land. Honoring the trees that created so much wealth only started in the 20th century. Texas led the charge in 1919, interestingly naming the pecan its official tree, a native but one that had been taken into cultivation for its nuts. Perhaps because of the Great Depression, state legislatures seemed to focus on passing morale-boosting legislation during the 1930s. Indiana named the tulip poplar its state tree in 1931, followed by Idaho in 1935 claiming the western white pine as its official tree. Georgia honored the southern live oak as its state tree in 1937, just ahead of the tree’s starring role as the iconic plantation tree in “Gone With the Wind.” Not to be outdone, the same year California declared both the coastal redwood and the giant sequoia as its official trees. The watershed year for choosing a state tree, however, was 1939. While the rest of the globe braced for world war, five states including Oregon voted declarations of official state trees – Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware and South Carolina.
Interestingly, Washington State waited until after World War II to name an official state tree. Although many were convinced the stately, long-lived western red cedar with its rich cultural associations with Northwest Native American tribes should bear the honor, promoting western hemlock’s future as a lumber tree won a majority of legislators’ votes. Oregon can boast that the official trees of five other states are also native here – from the aforementioned western white pine, western hemlock, and coastal redwood (albeit only to Curry County) to Alaska’s Sitka spruce and Montana’s ponderosa pine. British Columbia’s provincial tree – the Pacific dogwood – also is native to Oregon.
Douglas-fir was an obvious choice for Oregon’s official tree. The conifer is native to 35 of the state’s 36 counties and has served as one of the state’s most valuable resources. For decades, harvesting Douglas-fir was the principal engine driving the state’s economy. Along with its agricultural bounty, Oregon annually supplied the nation with millions of board feet of superb lumber from this fast-growing evergreen. The tree is named for Scottish plant hunter David Douglas, who collected plants in Oregon for eager English horticulturalists in the mid-1820s. Douglas-fir’s scientific name honors Dr. Archibald Menzies, a fellow Scot who had botanized in the Northwest a generation earlier. Dr. Menzies served both as physician and botanist on the early 1790s British voyage of exploration to the North Pacific, led by Capt. George Vancouver.
Today, our state tree has found favor in British plantation forests, where it was introduced by Douglas, as well as nations with similar, cool, maritime climates, such as New Zealand and Chile, where the tree is known in Spanish as pino de Oregon.
Want to see more state trees? Take a trip to Columbia Children's Arboretum 10040 NE 6th Drive. This 50 State arboretum was planted in 1970 by students of neighboring Columbia School, and while it is missing some trees/labels but it is a wonderful park to explore.