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The official state tree of Connecticut is the white oak; it was chosen to honor the gigantic Charter Oak that grew in the city of Hartford until the 1850s. The scientific name of this tree is quercus alba. Connecticut shares its state tree with two other states: Illinois and Maryland.
The story of how the white oak became the state tree of Connecticut can be dated back in the 1600s, when Connecticut, along with other states, were struggling to be liberated from British colonial rule. In 1662, Connecticut had already been granted its independence through the efforts of Governor John Winthrop Jr., who traveled to England to appeal for the state’s autonomy to King Charles II. Governor Winthrop received a Royal Charter as evidence of the King’s approval. When King Charles II passed away, though, the crown was passed to his brother, King James II. James II forced many states and colonies to join the Dominion of New England, even those, like Connecticut, that held Royal Charters.
In October 1687, Sir Edmund Andros, who had been appointed governor-general by King James II, brought a small army to Hartford to retrieve the Royal Charter, intending to revoke it. He was met with hostility from the colonists. One night, in a dim candle-lit room, Sir Andros met with the Connecticut leaders. The meeting went on for hours and soon the argument became heated, but was interrupted when the candle was suddenly put out.
When the candle was re-lit, it was found that the Royal Charter was gone. According to one version, a Connecticut captain named James Wadsworth took the Royal Charter and hid it inside a large white oak tree. Another version of this story says that the Royal Charter present during the meeting was not the original copy, and Sir Andros — who stole it while the light was out — took the duplicate without his knowing.
Nearly one hundred and seventy years after the incident, the mystery was solved. On August 21, 1856, a violent storm passed over Connecticut and uprooted a massive white oak that stood in Hartford, revealing the state’s Royal Charter. This resulted in naming that specific oak tree the “Charter Oak,” and making the white oak the state tree of Connecticut. To preserve the tree’s historical significance, some of its wood was made into three chairs, which are on display and in use in Hartford’s Capitol Building. The image of the state tree of Connecticut also appears on the commemorative State Quarter.
I like the leaves of the white oak tree. They have what looks like multiple fingers reaching out from the center, and this makes them easier to catch in the fall.
My daughter loves going leaf-catching, which is a sport that we made up in front of our large white oak. The leaves turn reddish-brown in October, and they start to sail on the breeze.
We stand in front of the tree and try to catch the leaves as they fly toward us. Since they have so many curved edges, they are easier to get a hold on than leaves with smooth edges.
Most of the oak trees in my yard produce smaller acorns than the white oak, so as a child, I was astonished to walk down the street and find acorns an inch long from a white oak tree. I didn't even know that acorns this large existed, so I was thrilled to find them.
White oak acorns have caps covered in bumps, and they slide out of them easily when ripe. They are definitely more decorative and fun to play with than the small acorns of a pin oak tree, which are all over my yard.