What Is the State Tree of Iowa?

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Oak wood is frequently used to make barrels for aging whiskey, wine, sherry, and other spirits.
Oak wood is frequently used to make barrels for aging whiskey, wine, sherry, and other spirits.

The state tree of Iowa is the oak tree. When the 59th Iowa General Assembly chose the oak tree in 1961, it didn’t specify any particular species. Many people feel the bur oak is the best fit for the state tree, possibly because it’s the most widespread species of oak in Iowa. An alternate spelling is burr oak, and this tree also goes by the names mossycup oak and mossycup white oak.

Oak Tree Characteristics

Iowa forests include various species, but the bur oak has the highest statewide live-tree volume.
Iowa forests include various species, but the bur oak has the highest statewide live-tree volume.

Oak trees have lobed leaves that can grow to 12 inches long. An oak tree’s fruit is called an acorn. Mature oaks are quite proliferous, and a single tree can produce tens of thousands of acorns every year. Many birds and animals, including deer, quail, squirrels, and bluejays, rely on acorns as a staple food source. Oak wood is very dense and resistant to insects and fungi, so it has various uses, including flooring, lumber, and barrels for aging wine and spirits.

Did You Know?

  • The scientific name of the bur oak is Quercus macrocarpa.
  • America’s official national tree is also the oak tree.
  • The Iowa Horticultural Society conducted a poll to choose the state tree during the 1958 Iowa State Fair. Nearly 14,000 votes were cast, and the winning tree was the black maple. The bur oak was fifth on the list.
  • The Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension of Iowa State University indicates that Iowa has 12 native species of oak, but the bur oak is the only one that is found throughout the entire state.

What Is the Most Common Tree in Iowa?

The oak tree is the official state tree of Iowa.
The oak tree is the official state tree of Iowa.

Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer. According to a 2013 publication from the U.S. Forest Service, the American elm is the most numerous species in terms of total number of trees statewide. However, the bur oak wins the prize for the species with the highest total statewide live-tree volume on forest land, with a total of just under half a billion cubic feet.

What Are the Best Trees To Plant in Iowa?

If you’re an Iowa resident wanting to add some trees to your yard, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has some suggestions. These trees grow relatively quickly:

  • Silver maple
  • American sycamore
  • River birch
  • Cottonwood
  • Hybrid willow

Iowa State University’s tree planting guide says that early spring is the best time to plant trees. Though it’s possible to plant trees throughout the year, there is a higher chance of failure for trees planted in late fall and winter.

What Are Other Iowa State Symbols?

Along with the state tree, Iowa has many other state emblems:

  • Iowa state flower: wild rose (no official species, but many sources display the wild prairie rose)
  • Iowa state bird: American goldfinch (sometimes specified as the eastern goldfinch subspecies)
  • Iowa state song: The Song of Iowa by S.H.M. Byers
  • Iowa state rock: geode
  • Iowa state motto: “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.”
Oak trees produce acorns, which are food for numerous birds and animals.
Oak trees produce acorns, which are food for numerous birds and animals.

Iowa is known as the Hawkeye State. There is no conclusive proof about where this nickname originated. Some sources indicate that it may have been inspired by the book The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. In the book, there is a scout named Hawkeye.

What Is the State of Iowa Known For?

Though many people immediately think of cornfields, there are several other things that Iowa is famous for.

  • It’s the top pork producer in the U.S., and it has more pigs than any other state (23.6 million).
  • The Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential primaries.
  • Des Moines hosts the Iowa State Fair, which always includes a cow sculpture made of butter.
  • It’s the only state with borders that are navigable rivers (the Mississippi and the Missouri).
  • Iowa was the first state where the Red Delicious apple was grown.
  • Sioux City is home to the Mid American Museum of Aviation & Transportation and the Sergeant Floyd Monument, which commemorates the single casualty of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Of course, it does make sense to think about cornfields. Iowa produces more corn than any other state; 12.8 million acres of corn were harvested there in 2018.

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell

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

@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

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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    • Oak wood is frequently used to make barrels for aging whiskey, wine, sherry, and other spirits.
      Oak wood is frequently used to make barrels for aging whiskey, wine, sherry, and other spirits.
    • Iowa forests include various species, but the bur oak has the highest statewide live-tree volume.
      Iowa forests include various species, but the bur oak has the highest statewide live-tree volume.
    • The oak tree is the official state tree of Iowa.
      The oak tree is the official state tree of Iowa.
    • Oak trees produce acorns, which are food for numerous birds and animals.
      Oak trees produce acorns, which are food for numerous birds and animals.
    • Iowa’s state flower is the wild rose.
      Iowa’s state flower is the wild rose.
    • Iowa's oak trees are frequently struck by lightning.
      By: yossarian6
      Iowa's oak trees are frequently struck by lightning.