How the Eastern White Pine Became Michigan’s State Tree

Hartwick Pines State Park in Michigan, via Grayling Visitor’s Bureau

Across the United States, many people are bringing home Eastern White Pines to light up and decorate for Christmas. In the cases of both Maine and Michigan, they’re also paying homage to the history of their state, whether they realize it or not. We’ve talked a lot here about the Eastern White Pine’s storied New England history, including its role in the Revolutionary War, but it has an interesting history deeper inland as well. 

Michigan Radio explores that story in a recent NPR feature. The tree’s role in the state began during an era of logging during the late 19th century. As you might know, early colonists in New England didn’t exactly have sustainability in mind as they cleared land to make way for their farms, and they wiped out vast tracts of forest between the1600s and 1800s. It wasn’t long before logging companies had to start moving toward the Midwest to find mature stands of Eastern White Pine, which thrive in the sandy soils of both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

The state became the national leader in lumber production from about 1870 to 1900, bringing $4 billion to their economy. Eastern White Pines became so economically significant that squabbles over the right to cut them down led to the 1837 treaty also called “the White Pine Treaty” in which Ojibwe leaders ceded a large area of land to the U.S. government while maintaining their rights to gather, hunt and fish there.

From the piece, which consults with (appropriately named) local historian Hillary Pine:

The logging era’s impact in Michigan is lasting. Pine says that’s partly why, in 1955, a group of schoolchildren in Saginaw wrote to their local state representative, Holly E. Hubbell, about the importance of the logging era to Michigan’s economy and population. Hubbell then introduced a bill naming the White Pine Michigan’s state tree, a title that became official on October 14 of that year, she says. The White Pine is also Maine’s state tree.

“You can also see mature White Pines at Hartwick Pines, which hosts a stand of old-growth White Pine trees, some of which are up to about 165 feet tall, she says.

“As you walk the trail, you’re literally encased in this canopy of old-growth trees towering above you. You can see quite a distance into the forest because there’s not much growing on the forest floor, and in the winter, especially, it makes for just a beautiful sight,” Pine said.

You can listen to this NPR segment in full at MichiganRadio.org.

Check out more about the history of the Eastern White Pine tree in the U.S.: