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Proud State Tree: The Eastern White Pine’s Legacy in Michigan


Maine isn’t the only state to make the proud Pinus strobus, a.k.a. the Eastern White Pine, its official state tree. Just like New England’s own rich history with the tree, which provided lumber for some of the United States’ earliest colonial structures, Michigan acknowledges the tree that helped build so may of its towns, including Cadillac. Multiple sources have waxed poetic about the beauty and significance of the tree, including a recent piece in the Cadillac News.

According to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, the detailed notes taken by the land surveyors included information on the location, species, and diameter of each tree used to mark section lines and section corners. The surveyors also commented on the general quality of timber along each section line. Biologists from the MNFI developed a method to translate those survey notes into a digital map. The maps they created show that there was a 10-mile wide swath of forest dominated by white pine that extended from Cadillac to Lake City. Between 1870 and 1890, most of these pines were harvested and turned into lumber. The harvesting and milling of the white pine timber helped to establish the towns of Cadillac and Jennings.

They also note that Eastern White Pines are still valued today, particularly for timber frame buildings and interior millwork. They’re also some of the country’s most beautiful Christmas trees, with superior needle retention. These trees help provide deer with thermal cover in the winter, as well as perches for birds of prey.

MyNorth contributor Russ Capaldi shared some of this thoughts about the Eastern White Pine’s importance in an essay called ‘In Praise of White Pines: An Essay on Michigan’s State Tree.’

Pinus Strobus. Eastern White Pine. When the English approached the eastern seaboard of North America for the very first time their eyes must have bugged right out of their heads. For from the virgin forests, staring out at them as they bobbed and heaved on the New World waters were—by the millions—what the world’s greatest navy was then in very short supply of: ship masts, and by extension, mast pines. By definition, white pine trees: at least 120 feet in length, four feet in diameter at the base, and two and a half feet in diameter at the tall mark. If a particular tree was qualified, three quick axe strokes at eye level left the king’s mark of immediate title: the King’s Broad Arrow. The British built two ships that could transport 50 stems at a time. How many white pines were taken from the colonies? Records are unclear. But the de facto seizures so rankled the colonists, it became their habit to chop down and make off with every King’s pine they came across; pines shoulder-to-shoulder with stamps and tea for revolution.

Walking farther into the woods, we’re surprised to see now and then a giant white pine left to itself and dwarfing every tree around. We see them on the edge of the sparkling stream or on a bare promontory, and we’re pleased to wonder: did old-time timber men and prospectors leave these trees standing as some mark of reverence, or simply as cynosures to the next stand.

It’s a beautiful essay, and a fitting tribute to the tree we all hold so dear – read the whole thing at

Photo by John Paul Endicott / Flickr Creative Commons 2.0


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