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The state tree of Massachusetts is the American elm, or Ulmus americana. The designation of the American elm as Massachusetts’s state tree commemorates an historical event. In 1775, the American Revolutionary War started in Massachusetts with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. After the battles, General George Washington took control of the Continental Army while beneath an American elm. It became the state tree of Massachusetts on 21 March 1941.
American elms can grow to 120 feet (36.57 meters) tall and are found in the eastern half of the United States. The large range of the state tree of Massachusetts is due to the tree’s tolerance for heat and cold. It also survives in a wide variety of soil and water conditions. This stately tree is known by several other names, including Florida elm and water elm. It is favored more for its fast growth and leafy silhouette than for the nondescript flowers that appear from March until May.
The popularity, hardiness, and beauty of the American elm made it not only the state tree of Massachusetts but also the state tree of North Dakota. The tree’s wood is valued for its interlocking grain, a feature that makes the wood less susceptible to splitting. American elm wood is useful in making a variety of goods including hockey sticks, furniture, and flooring. Pulpwood is sometimes made from American elm, and some paper manufactures utilize the wood in their goods.
These trees are highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease, a fungus spread by bark beetles. In 1930, a shipment of logs brought the disease from Europe to the United States. The disease causes the American elm’s foliage to yellow and wilt, eventually killing the entire tree. Dutch elm disease decimated the elm tree’s population, sometimes wiping out entire stands of old-growth trees. American elms, once nearly ubiquitous in cities and parks, were reduced to occasional scatterings of healthy trees.
Dutch elm disease is difficult to prevent in these elms and almost impossible to treat once a tree is infected. Conservation efforts focus on attempting to hybridize American elms with elms more resistant to the disease. American elms have twice the chromosomes of other elms, making successful hybridization difficult. Limiting the spread of Dutch elm disease involves eliminating bark beetles and preventing cross contamination. Insecticides are effective in killing the fungus-carrying bark beetles, and sanitary plant care practices can prevent the spread of disease from infected trees to healthy trees.