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What Is the State Tree of Iowa?

Acorns, the fruit of a burr oak.
Iowa's oak trees are frequently struck by lightning.
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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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Iowa’s selection of a state tree has left itself open to interpretation. Legislators chose the oak tree as one of the state symbols, declining to specify which type of oak. In lists of the 50 state trees, a specific oak type is sometmes listed as the state tree of Iowa, but such designations are erroneous. In Washington, D.C., where the United States National Arboretum cares for the National Grove of State Trees, which contains trees that represent each of the 50 states, a burr oak represents Iowa.

It can take up to half a century for the state tree of Iowa to produce a decent crop of seeds or acorns. The production varies from year to year, with some years providing a bumper crop and others producing fewer. In a good year of acorn production, called a mast year, an established oak tree can produce as many as 50,000 acorns. Before the oak sheds its leaves in autumn, the tree will drop its acorns and they will begin to sprout quickly and grow new oak trees if they can avoid environmental damage from frost or fire, and are not eaten by animals.

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The state tree of Iowa is often struck by lightning, with one theory stating it is because it possesses low electrical resistance. Another theory attributes the many lightning strikes to the fact an oak is among the tallest beings in many settings. Whatever the cause, lightning bolts were associated with certain Roman and Greek gods, who became linked to the oak’s symbolism. Monarchs in ancient times, thought to be deities, wore oak leaves as their crowns to reinforce their image as gods. Roman warriors who were victorious were given oak leaves, and today some modern warriors serving in the military wear oak leaf icons on their uniforms.

More than 400 different species of the oak tree grow around the world. The burr oak, chosen by the National Arboretum to represent the state tree of Iowa, is found throughout the state. Also known as the mossycup oak, it holds up well in times of drought but does not like to be transplanted once it is established. It has long limbs, and under the right conditions it can live a long time. A variety of animals use the oak for protection and for food. The oak’s strong wood is favored for flooring and furniture. It is also a popular tree in the landscape.

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bythewell
Post 3

I've always wanted to try acorn flour. Acorns can't be eaten straight from the tree, so people developed ways of soaking them and treating them to get the tannins out so that they become edible.

I believe they were a staple part of the diet for many American Indians, so that might have played a part in the decision to make the oak the State Tree of Iowa.

I would be surprised if more states didn't also pick the oak, as it is the National Tree of the USA in general.

But then it's the national tree of quite a few countries apparently, including England and quite a few other places in Europe.

It's a bit ironic really to pick as your symbol a tree that attracts lightning strikes!

indigomoth
Post 2

@Mor - The National Grove of State Trees is a pretty cool concept but you're right, they can't grow all the state trees in one area because the climate and conditions don't suit all of them. For example, I believe the state tree of Florida likes swamp conditions.

They manage to get most of them to grow but in a few cases they have had to substitute a different tree from the region which was better suited for the site, but still had some significance to the state.

The oak tree of Iowa is a pretty safe bet though. They don't just have one specimen of each, they have several and it stretches for a few acres so you can have a walk around.

They started picking state trees as a response to logging when all the national forests began to become more scarce. I think it's a really nice gesture to have a grove to represent that.

Mor
Post 1

I didn't know there was a forest of trees in Washington, each of them representing a state tree. I think that's such a good idea.

Although I do wonder if all the trees are able to grow properly in the climate there. Usually state trees are supposed to be native to the region and the native trees of Alaska and Hawaii probably wouldn't do all that well in the same conditions.

To be honest I didn't know there were different kinds of oak trees, and I wonder if the people who selected the one that's in the state tree forest asked for input before they picked a particular kind of oak.

I would love to go and see this forest. The next time I'm in Washington DC I'll have to go and have a look.

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