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The state tree of Montana is the Ponderosa pine, a species that can grow up to 230 feet (about 70 m) tall. This tree was given the state symbol designation in 1949. The Ponderosa pine is native to the area, and Native Americans historically used the wood for canoe making. Modernly, the wood is commercially useful for building furniture.
Some trees have very complicated scientific names, but the Ponderosa pine has the easy-to-remember name of Pinus ponderosa. According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, the tree gets it name from its "ponderous" size. While the tallest tree can be as much as 230 feet (about 70 m) tall, generally the adult trees are about 100 feet (about 30 m) shorter than this.
Each adult Ponderosa pine has a long, straight trunk, orange-tinted bark, and a cap of foliage at the top of the trunk. When it is young, however, the state tree of Montana grows branches out from the side, as well as from the top. Most of these branches fall off as the tree grows older. The tree's roots absorb moisture for the pine, and may be up to 30 feet (about 9 m) long.
Needles from the state tree of Montana grow in groups of two or three, and can be as long as ten inches (about 25 cm) in length. If a person crushes one, he or she may notice a faint scent of turpentine, lemons, or even vanilla. The cones, of up to six inches (about 15 cm) in length, contain seeds that Native Americans used to eat.
Although the trees are widespread across Western United States, and commonly form part of the lumber economy, some trees in the area may be up to 600 years old. Ponderosa pines tend to thrive on sloped ground and flat areas above sea level, where the climate is partially arid. The state tree of Montana prefers to grow in forests, but also needs to have its own space, as it grows best with plenty of sunlight.
Every so often throughout history, pine forests in the U.S. experience a forest fire. These fires might have arisen from campfires, or from a lightning strike. These fires tend to kill any tree species that might compete for the same space as the Ponderosa pines. These fires enabled the surviving pines to get enough sunlight and nutrients to grow properly. Although the state government now controls and reduces fires in the forests, they set their own fires every once in a while to clear the ground for the pines to thrive.