The state flower of Maine is the only state floral emblem that is actually not a flower. It is the cone and tassel of the eastern white pine tree. “Tassel” refers to a cluster of needles growing on the same small branch of a coniferous tree.
State flowers were first proposed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where a “National Garland of Flowers” was discussed. Efforts promptly began in many states to name a state flower. Three items were nominated for the state flower of Maine: an apple blossom, goldenrod, and a pine cone and tassel.
A public vote was held via ballots printed in local newspapers and the winner was the pine cone and tassel. In February of 1895, the cone and tassel of the eastern white pine was adopted as the state flower of Maine. This was a particularly fitting choice as Maine was already known as the Pine Cone State. In 1945 the eastern white pine was adopted as the Maine state tree, meaning that the same species is both the state tree, and the state flower of Maine.
The eastern white pine is Pinus strobus, also called northern white pine, white pine, northern pine, soft pine and Weymouth pine. It is the tallest conifer in the eastern forests of North America and is found in the eastern and maritime provinces of Canada as well as New England, the mid-Atlantic region, south along the Appalachians to the northern part of Georgia and west through Kentucky and Tennessee. The tree also grows in the upper midwest, including Wisconsin and Minnesota.
From early colonial times, eastern white pine has been an important part of the timber industry in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The wood is light, easy to work, durable, and takes paints, stains and finishes well. It is well suited use in many roles, including interior wood trim, cabinets, paneling, wooden toys and furniture.
Left undisturbed, the tree can grow to a maximum height of 150 feet (46 m) with a trunk diameter of 42 inches (102 cm) The soft, blueish-green needles grow in sets of five. Several sets of these needles on a twig and one of the 4- to 8-inch (10- to 20-cm) cones are used to represent the state flower of Maine. In addition to being logged, the eastern white pine is used in reclamation projects to stabilize disturbed ground. Eastern white pine provides food for many species of songbirds and small mammal as well as deer, and tall specimens provide nesting spaces to birds as large as the bald eagle.