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What Is the State Tree of North Dakota?

The state tree of North Dakota is the stately American Elm, chosen for its hardiness and the shelter it provides against the prairie winds. This majestic tree symbolizes strength and endurance, mirroring the spirit of the state itself. How does the American Elm enhance the landscape and lives of North Dakotans? Join us as we explore its enduring legacy.
Britt Archer
Britt Archer

The state tree of North Dakota is the American elm. At one time it was a beautiful presence in virtually every small American town, gracing parks and beautifying the streets. Unfortunately this tree is extremely susceptible to a type of fungus known as Dutch elm disease, which destroyed many of the American elm trees that people had come to love. Formerly shady streets became bare of trees and parks suffered as the trees died.

Before the fungus reached America’s shores, the state tree of North Dakota was highly valued as a shade tree. Its popularity was enhanced by its hardiness, fast growth habit and stress resistance. Then the fungus hitched a ride to American shores in 1930 in a batch of European logs, setting off the mass death of American elms. The disease has since spread to both coasts of the country and infected trees in 41 states.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The rate of die-off was a cause of great concern by the 1940s, just as the American elm was adopted as the state tree of North Dakota. Massachusetts, too, adopted this elm as its state tree around the same time. North Dakota passed legislation in favor of making the American elm its state tree in 1947. Scientists know that a beetle spreads the fungus, which came originally from Asia. Starting in Ohio, it spread rapidly westward.

A few new varieties of American elm were brought to market in the mid-1990s, bred especially to be resistant to the fungus that killed so many elms decades earlier. A few of these promising varieties are named New Harmony and Valley Forge. An older variety named Princeton also possesses good resistance.

The state tree of North Dakota can grow to 100 feet (30.48 meters) with a 70 foot (21.33 meters) spread. Its leaves turn various colors in the fall, varying from gold to brown, before falling off. Its scientific name is Ulmus americana and it is also known by the names Florida elm, water elm, white elm and soft elm. Early settlers loved the American elm as much as their modern counterparts, calling the tree “the lady of the forest.” Birds and deer sustain themselves with food from the tree, and its wood is used to make furniture, crates and boxes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state tree of North Dakota?

The state tree of North Dakota is the American Elm (Ulmus americana). This tree was designated as the official state tree in 1947, reflecting its significance and prevalence across the state. The American Elm is known for its majestic form, spreading branches, and lush foliage, which have made it a popular choice for street and park plantings.

Why was the American Elm chosen as North Dakota's state tree?

The American Elm was chosen as North Dakota's state tree due to its hardiness and adaptability to the state's climate. It can withstand the harsh winters and hot summers typical of the region. Additionally, the American Elm was once a common sight in North Dakota, lining the streets of many communities before the spread of Dutch elm disease.

What are the characteristics of the American Elm?

The American Elm is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 60-80 feet tall with a canopy that spreads equally wide. It has a distinctive vase-shaped growth habit, with a straight trunk and branches that arch outwards. The leaves are oval with serrated edges and a pointed tip. In the spring, the tree produces small, inconspicuous flowers followed by flat, winged seeds called samaras.

How has Dutch elm disease affected North Dakota's state tree?

Dutch elm disease (DED) has had a devastating impact on American Elm populations across the United States, including North Dakota. This fungal disease, spread by elm bark beetles, causes wilt and death in affected trees. Efforts to manage the disease and breed resistant varieties of elms are ongoing, but the loss of mature elms has significantly altered many North Dakota landscapes.

Are there any conservation efforts for the American Elm in North Dakota?

Conservation efforts for the American Elm in North Dakota include research into disease-resistant strains and the careful management of existing trees to prevent the spread of Dutch elm disease. Organizations such as the North Dakota Forest Service work to educate the public on proper care and maintenance of elms, as well as reforestation projects using resistant varieties to ensure the state tree's presence for future generations.

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