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Utah State Tree

Quaking aspen Populus tremuloides Adopted: March 25, 2014
Utah state tree
Utah State Tree: Quaking aspen in the fall
Photographs, posters, and prints

On March 25, 2014, when Governor Gary Herbert signed Senate Bill No. 41, the quaking aspen was adopted as the official state tree of Utah.

Prior to this date, the blue spruce had served the state faithfully for eighty years.

1933 - Blue spruce gains the title

Some Utahns began kicking around the idea of adopting an official state tree in the early 1900s.

Utah state tree
Former Utah State Tree: Blue Spruce
Photograph by Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service

In 1919, Utah was beat to the punch by Texas, but could have come in a close second in 1921 when State Rep. Day tried again to have the blue spruced declared the official state tree. This time, his bill was blocked by proponents of the box elder and the poplar.

At the same time, in Texas, legislation was being considered to name the pecan tree the official tree of that state. Either Utah or Texas could become the first state to adopt an official tree.

Utah State Rep. Day’s bill died, giving Texas the honor of being the first state to designate an official state tree.

Utah state tree candidate
Utah State Tree Candidate: Box Elder

In 1923, legislation was introduced to name the "male" box elder the official state tree. This legislation went nowhere.

The box elder crowd tried again in 1925, and again in 1927, and again in 1929. The Utah State Legislature, it seems, was just not interested.

While Texas had become the first state to declare an official state tree, in 1919, and Utah had failed, session after session, to name an official tree, other states were taking notes.

In 1931, two additional states, Indiana and Pennsylvania, pushed the number of states with official trees to three. Indiana and Pennsylvania adopted the tulip tree and the hemlock tree respectively. Another state, Colorado, whose interests in adopting a state tree could be traced back to 1892, was also intent on finally adopting a state tree.

Salt Lake Tribune article

The Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs decided to take immediate action.

According to the January 29, 1933 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, a meeting of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs, at the Hotel Utah, produced the following.

A resolution was passed that the Utah blue spruce be made the state tree, following recommendation of Mrs. Walter C. Hurd, chairman of the tree planting committee. A bill will be introduced at the present session of the legislature to carry out this suggestion, Mrs. Vernon said. Completion of the state song book by Mrs. George Lindsay of Eureka was announced.

("CLUB WOMEN SET MEETING", 1933)

Mrs. Vernon, mentioned above, was the president of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs.

In testament to the long reach of the Utah Federation of Women's Clubs, State Representative Weston Vernon introduced a bill to designate the blue spruce as the official state tree in February, 1933.

Note the surname of the president of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs and the representative who introduced the bill. We don’t know if or how Mrs. Vernon, of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs, or State Rep. Weston Vernon were related.

Utah laws chapter 64
Utah Laws Chapter 64

The effort to name the blue spruce the official tree of Utah was promoted by the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs with some urgency as Colorado was also considering adoption of the blue spruce as its official tree. The Federation wanted to be sure that Utah made claim to the blue spruce before Colorado.

Not to be outdone by Colorado, the Utah Legislature passed House Bill No. 66 in record time, one hour, on February 18, 1933! The blue spruce became Utah’s official state tree when Governor Henry H. Blood signed the legislation on February 20, 1933!

Colorado, dragging its feet, didn’t officially declare a state tree until 1939. As might be expected, the "Colorado blue spruce" was that state’s choice.

Some grumbling in Utah

The blue spruce remained the official state tree for eighty years. Though there was some grumbling from time to time that another selection might be more appropriate, nothing much came of it. The juniper came up more than once, most recently promoted by fourth graders (House Bill No. 246) in 2008. Their efforts were beat back by the Utah Cattlemen’s Association out of fear that an official designation would impact the juniper removal program that was opening up more grazing land for cattle in the state.

2013 - Fourth-graders in Monroe pitch the governor

In September, 2013, during a tour of central Utah, Governor Gary Hebert and his Rural Partnership Board were petitioned by a group of fourth-graders from Monroe Elementary School to change the state tree from the blue spruce to the aspen. Sevier County Commissioner Gordon Topham had suggested that the students offer there proposal as part of the executive’s "Capital for a Day" rural tour.

...the youngsters pressed the governor on the issue, wondering why a tree linked to Colorado was designated as the official Utah state tree.

(Clark, "Utah senator pushes aspen as new state tree", 2014)

"Each year when we go over the state symbols and we talk about the Colorado blue spruce, the kids always say it’s funny we have a Colorado tree for our state tree," said Angie Blomquist, teacher of the class.

(Halversen, "Students petition Governor Herbert to change the state tree", 2013)

Teacher Angie Blomquist seems to support the students in their understanding that the blue spruce is a Colorado tree.

Governor Herbert and State Senator Ralph Okerlund, responsible for introduction of Senate Bill No. 41 to change the state tree to the quaking aspen, both fueled the idea that the blue spruce was a "Colorado" tree and not appropriate for Utah.

From the Daily Herald, Provo:

Okerlund said that since Utah and Colorado are competitors in many areas, such as tourism, that he has wondered why Utah would let Colorado have any glory in the beehive state by letting the state tree be a tree that has the word Colorado in it.

(Hestermen, "Lawmakers looking to change state tree to aspen", 2013)

The state tree, blue spruce, as adopted by the 1933 Utah Legislature, did not have the word "Colorado" in it.

Utah laws chapter 64

We think it unfortunate that an initial premise for changing the tree stemmed from the idea that the Utah state tree was the "Colorado" blue spruce and therefore, not appropriate as the state tree of Utah.

The idea that the blue spruce was somehow a "Colorado" tree and not a "Utah" tree, was, and still is, false. The choice of the blue spruce in 1933 was not unreasonable for the state of Utah at the time. Blue spruce are found in Utah and in Colorado, as well as several other western and eastern states. Additionally, Utah adopted the blue spruce six years before Colorado.

Be that as it may, the push was on in 2013 to change the state tree to the aspen and some good reasons were offered in support of the change.

Utah gets a new state tree

Senate Bill No. 41 was introduced by Senator Ralph Okerlund on January 27, 2014. It was referred to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

Despite the erroneous statements that the blue spruce was a "Colorado" tree and therefore not suitable for Utah, proponents of the aspen did come up with some valid reasons for making the change.

In the first place, it was said, the blue spruce made up less than one percent of the state’s forest cover, while the aspen makes up ten percent and is more wide-spread in the state.

Utah state tree
Utah State Tree: Pando aspen grove at Fishlake National Forest
Photographs, posters, and prints

Perhaps more interesting is that Aspen stands are unique in that they are mostly clones of one another, growing from one root system and spreading outward. Paul Rogers, of the Western Aspen Alliance, an organization whose goal is to "to facilitate effective and appropriate management of aspen ecosystems in Western North America through coordinated scientific efforts and shared information," explained.

Utah is home to the world's largest living organism called Pando, a cluster of aspen trees near Fish Lake in Sevier County, which covers an estimated 106 acres of land. Aspen trees are mostly genetic clones of each other and grow from the root system outwards, hence the name Pando which is Latin for "I spread."

"It may be seen as important you are trying to select a symbol more widespread and known by Utahns," Rogers said. "Any Utahn, whether they are a city dweller or live in a rural area, can identify an aspen tree when they go in the mountains."

(Pratt, "Utah Looks to Change State Tree", 2014)

Brian Cottam, a Utah State Forester, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee the change was purposeful.

Cottam said the tree change would give him some management guidance from the Legislature in that he should emphasize his management efforts around the state's aspen forests. Cottam also stated that the aspen is a favorite among locals and tourists alike as many love to see the aspen leaves in the fall.

(Hesterman, "Quaking aspen one step closer to becoming state tree", 2014)

State Senator Ralph Okerlund
Utah State Senator Ralph Okerlund
Photograph: Utah State Senate

Senator Okerlund said

"There is nothing like an aspen grove in the fall of the year."

(Hesterman, "Utah gets a new state tree: Quaking aspen", 2014

Senator Pat Jones equated the characteristics of the aspen to the people of the state. She said that the connectivity of the aspen root system could be compared to the connectivity of the people of the state. She also referred to the aspens as survivors, another shared aspect of many fellow Utahns.

After a favorable committee assessment, the bill was sent to the full Senate for a vote. With three members absent, the remaining Senators approved Senate Bill No. 41 unanimously on February 10, 2014 and forwarded the bill to the State House of Representatives for its consideration.

In the House, the bill experienced a rougher ride.

Though she called them beautiful, State Representative Dana Layton equated the aspen to a weed.

"They’re beautiful but I did plant some in my front yard and ended up having to tear them out because they took over everything," Layton said. "Or is that a good analogy for Utah, you can’t kill us and we’ll take over everything? Maybe we like that."

(Webb, "House OKs adopting aspen as Utah tree", 2014)

Representative Carol Spackman Moss debunked the "Colorado" blue spruce story and mentioned that the aspen was just as iconic in Colorado as it was in Utah, citing the city of Aspen, Colo. She also offered that a constituent, a member of the Utah Native Plant Society suggested that the cottonwood might be a better choice.

…she did not want to rain on any school children’s parade, but she has a constituent from the Utah Native Plant Society with some concerns about the bill. The Colorado blue spruce, she said, is actually just the blue spruce and Colorado did not adopt the blue spruce as its state tree until six years after Utah.

"They copied us and not the other way around," Moss said.

Her constituent suggested the cottonwood as an alternative proposal.

(Webb, "House OKs adopting aspen as Utah tree", 2014)

As Senator Pat Jones had, Representative Brad Wilson equated the tree to the character of Utahns although in a somewhat strained manner.

"The aspen stems grow from roots of older trees," Wilson said. "This creates a very important metaphor that we could connect to Utah as these children of the parents grow and are very prolific."

(Webb, "House OKs adopting aspen as Utah tree", 2014)

Representative Mel Brown recalled the large three to four foot diameter trees he had seen on LaSalle Mountain.

"The aspens in Utah are a little unique and I don’t think there’s anywhere else where… the size of the aspen trees compare with those in Utah," Brown said.

(Webb, "House OKs adopting aspen as Utah tree", 2014)

In spite of some objections, Senate Bill No. 41 was approved in the State House of Representatives on February 1, 2014. The vote was not unanimous however. The bill received 54 yeahs and 19 nays. Two members either abstained from voting or were not present for the vote.

ENROLLED

S.B. 41 ENROLLED

STATE TREE CHANGE

2014 GENERAL SESSION
STATE OF UTAH

Chief Sponsor: Ralph Okerlund
House Sponsor: Brad R. Wilson

LONG TITLE
General Description:

This bill:

enacts provisions designating the state tree as the quaking aspen.

Money Appropriated in this Bill:

None

Other Special Clauses:

None

Utah Code Sections Affected:

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Utah:

Section 1. Section 63G-1-601 is amended to read:

63G-1-601. State symbols.

(1) Utah's state animal is the elk.

(2) Utah's state bird is the sea gull.

(3) Utah's state centennial astronomical symbol is the Beehive Cluster located in the constellation of Cancer the C

(4) Utah's state centennial star is Dubhe, one of the seven bright stars composing the Big Dipper in the constellation Ursa Major.

(5) Utah's state centennial tartan, which honors the first Scots known to have been in Utah and those Utahns of Scottish heritage, shall have a pattern or repeating-half-sett of white-2, blue-6, red-6, blue-4, red-6, green-18, red-6, and white-4 to represent the tartan worn anciently by the Logan and Skene clans, with the addition of a white stripe.

(6) Utah's state cooking pot is the dutch oven.

(7) Utah's state emblem is the beehive.

(8) Utah's state emblem of service and sacrifice of lives lost by members of the military in defense of our freedom is the "Honor and Remember" flag, which consists of:

(a) a red field covering the top two-thirds of the flag;
(b) a white field covering the bottom one-third of the flag, which contains the words "honor" and "remember"; (c) a blue star overlaid by a gold star with a thin white border in the center of the flag spanning the red field and the white field; and
(d) a representation of a folded United States flag beneath the blue and gold stars with three tongues of flame emanating from its top point into the center of the gold star.

(9) Utah's state firearm is the John M. Browning designed M1911 automatic pistol.

(10) Utah's state fish is the Bonneville cutthroat trout.

(11) Utah's state flower is the sego lily.

(12) Utah's state folk dance is the square dance, the folk dance that is called, cued, or prompted to the dancers and includes squares, rounds, clogging, contra, line, and heritage dances.

(13) Utah's state fossil is the Allosaurus.

(14) Utah's state fruit is the cherry.

(15) Utah's state vegetable is the Spanish sweet onion.

(16) Utah's historic state vegetable is the sugar beet.

(17) Utah's state gem is topaz, as is prominently found in the Thomas Mountain Range in Juab County, Utah.

(18) Utah's state grass is Indian rice grass.

(19) Utah's state hymn is "Utah We Love Thee" by Evan Stephens.

(20) Utah's state insect is the honeybee.

(21) Utah's state mineral is copper.

(22) Utah's state motto is "Industry."

(23) Utah's state railroad museum is Ogden Union Station.

(24) Utah's state rock is coal.

(25) Utah's state song is "Utah This is the Place" by Sam and Gary Francis.

(26) Utah's state tree is the [blue spruce] quaking aspen.

(27) Utah's state winter sports are skiing and snowboarding.

It took some time, but the approved bill, naming the quaking aspen 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 travelled to Monroe for a ceremonial signing among the students who had initiated the idea. He signed with pens made from quaking aspen, while seated in an aspen rocking chair at a desk also made of aspen.

Senator Ralph Okerlund addressed the Monroe Elementary School student body, prior to the Governor's arrival.

"It’s fun, isn’t it," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, the sponsor of the bill and a native of Monroe. "This is a history changing event. For many, many years to come, when people learn about our state tree it will be the quaking aspen, and Monroe elementary was a big part of making that change happen."

"You’ve learned at a very young age how to influence people," Okerlund said. "When these leaves turn a golden hue in the fall, we’ll always remember the change we’ve made here this day."

(Hunt, "Students help usher in quaking aspen Utah’s new state tree as Gov. Gary Herbert signs SB 41 into law at MES", 2014)

Tanner Torgerson, a fourth grade student involved in the project, told the student body about how they helped to make the quaking aspen Utah’s new state tree.

"We told him how aspen colonies grow together on a single root," Torgerson said. "They all work together like Utah’s people. The colonies also represent our big families … They are resilient like the people of Utah. Not to mention, we have the largest organism on Earth right here in our backyard, Pando, which is located at the entrance to Fish Lake."

"Our opinion counts and when we believe something we can … affect change," Torgerson said. "It feels pretty good being part of something so important at such a young age. Not many people get a chance to do that."

(Hunt, "Students help usher in quaking aspen Utah’s new state tree as Gov. Gary Herbert signs SB 41 into law at MES", 2014)

Lyman residents Phillip and Holly Clingo, who make aspen furniture, donated the rocking chair to the State of Utah as part of the ceremony. Though technically an artifact of the Utah Historical Society, for now the chair will reside in an honored position at Monroe Elementary School.

What's in a name?

The 1933 Utah legislation named the "blue spruce" the official state tree of the State of Utah.

Six years later, in 1939, Colorado legislation named the "Colorado blue spruce" the official state tree of Colorado.

The trees named by Utah and Colorado were, and are, actually the same tree, Picea pungens, going by different common names. They are found in a number of northeastern and western states, including Utah and Colorado.

Picea pungens, in fact, goes by a number of common names. It is known as blue spruce, Colorado blue spruce, Colorado spruce, silver spruce, and pino real. In general, the preferred name seems to be blue spruce, unless you live in Colorado of course.

We mention this because some promoters of the effort to change the official state tree to the quaking aspen were misleading in their statements;

  1. It was stated that the "Colorado" blue spruce was designated the state tree when, in fact, it was simply the blue spruce that was awarded the state tree title in 1933.
  2. It was implied that the blue spruce was a Colorado tree when, in fact, the blue spruce grows in both Colorado and Utah as well as many other states.

Unfortunately, Governor Herbert repeated the mistaken idea that the former state tree had been the Colorado blue spruce while speaking at the ceremonial bill signing at Monroe Elementary School on March 26, 2014.

I'm very happy to be with you on this occasion and the things that have been mentioned already about your involvement. Really, that's how things happen. People have an idea and they get involved and they express those ideas and convince other people to join with them in those ideas; in this particular case convince the legislature that this was a worthwhile exercise in changing the name of the state tree from the Colorado blue spruce to the Utah quaking aspen.

("New state tree for Utah", 2014)


Sources...

Clark, Antone. "Utah Senator Pushes Aspen as New State Tree." The Standard-Examiner. Ogden Publishing Corporation, 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.

"CLUB WOMEN SET MEETING." The Salt Lake Tribune 29 Jan. 1933, sec. B: 8. Print.

Halversen, Taylor. "Students petition Governor Herbert to change the state tree." Utah Public Radio, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

Hesterman, Billy. "Lawmakers looking to change state tree to aspen." The Daily Herald [Provo] 26 Oct. 2013: n. pag. Daily Herald. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

Hesterman, Billy. "Quaking Aspen One Step Closer to Becoming State Tree." The Daily Herald. The Daily Herald, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

Hesterman, Billy. "Utah gets a new state tree: Quaking aspen." The Daily Herald. The Daily Herald, 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.

Hunt, Chad. "Students Help Usher in Quaking Aspen Utah’s New State Tree as Gov. Gary Herbert Signs SB 41 into Law at MES." The Richfield Reaper. The Richfield Reaper, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

"New State Tree for Utah." Sun Advocate. Sun Advocate, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.

Pratt, Morgan. "Utah Looks to Change State Tree." Utah Public Radio. Utah Public Radio, 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

Rogers-Iversen, Kristen. "How a Colorado spruce became Utah’s state tree." The Salt Lake Tribune, 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 2 Oct. 2010.

Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 3 Sub edition, 2001.

Webb, Topher. "House OKs Adopting Aspen as Utah Tree." The Salt Lake Tribune. The Salt Lake Tribune, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.


Additional Information


The story of the adoption of the quaking aspen as Utah's official state tree in 2014, unfortunately
perpetrating the misinformation that the previous state tree had been the "Colorado" blue spruce.

Utah State Tree - Quaking Aspen: Utah's Online Library from the Utah State Library Division and the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts.

Quaking or Trembling Aspen: Utah State University Extension Forestry.

Quaking Aspen: The Arbor Day Foundation.

How Aspens Grow: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): Forest Service.

Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen): USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Populus tremuloides: Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).

Populus tremuloides: Search for images of Populus tremuloides with Google.

Blue or Colorado Blue Spruce: Utah State University Extension Forestry.

Blue Spruce: Bryce Canyon National Park.

Picea pungens (blue spruce): USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

State trees: Complete list of official state trees from NETSTATE.COM.

More symbols & emblems: Complete list of official Utah state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.

Quaking Aspen
Quaking Aspen
Bonnie Holmes

Quaking Aspen; Carolrhoda Nature Watch Book, by Bonnie Holmes. 48 pages. Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, Inc. (August 1, 1999) Reading level: Grades 3+.

Quaking Aspens describes the life-cycle of the quaking aspen, its role in the ecosystem, and the threat to aspens from animals and people.

Carolrhoda's acclaimed Nature Watch series explores the life cycle of animals and plants through splendid full-color photographs and clear text. Includes glossary, index, and diagrams. Supports the national science education standards Unifying Concepts and Processes: Systems, Order, and Organization; Unifying Concepts and Processes: Form and Function; Life Science; and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives as outlined by the National Academics of Science and endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association.

Guide To The Trees Of Utah
A Guide To
The Trees Of Utah

Michael Kuhns

A Guide To the Trees Of Utah by Michael Kuhns. 341 pages. Publisher: Utah State University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 1998)

Accessible and informative, this guide to the all native and introduced trees of the Intermountain West is a welcome addition to the library of the homeowner, landscaper, recreationist, traveler, or student in this large and unique region of the American Rocky Mountain West. Includes identification keys and hundreds of authoritative illustrations.

Michael Kuhns has compiled a comprehensive guide to virtually every native and introduced tree species from the eastern slope of the Rockies west to the Sierra Nevada, and from north-central Oregon, the Salmon River region of Idaho, and Yellowstone south to the Grand Canyon and northern New Mexico.