The Sitka spruce became the state tree of Alaska in 1962, three years after Alaska became the 49th state in the Union in 1959. Despite its official status as a state symbol, it was not possible to allow the Sitka spruce to represent the state in a special grove in Washington, D.C., that consists of the official trees of all states. This is because the Sitka spruce does well in the moist coastal climate found in Alaska, but it would do poorly in the climate of the nation’s capital.
In the Grove of State Trees at the United States National Arboretum, the Alaska cedar became the substitute for the Sitka spruce. Like the official state tree of Alaska, the cedar also grows well in Alaska’s moist climate, but it is better than the spruce at also thriving in different types of conditions. In Alaska, the Sitka spruce and the Alaska cedar can be found growing together in forests.
The strong, light lumber provided by the state tree of Alaska is high-grade and employed in many industries. It has been used in airplanes, including the Mosquito, a British bomber that was flown in World War II, and the Spruce Goose of the late 1940s. The wood also has been used in gliders, boats, oars, guitars, ladders and building construction. It also is used in the manufacture of paper.
The state tree of Alaska is the tallest spruce tree in the world. In its natural rainy habitat, it can grow to more than 200 feet (almost 61 meters). The oldest of Alaska’s Sitka spruce have reached a diameter of more than 8 feet (2.43 meters). Some of these old-growth spruce trees have attained an age of 700 years. It has a number of other names, including silver spruce, yellow spruce, coast spruce, Sitka spur, western spruce and tideland spruce. It’s scientific name is Picea sitchensis.
A stand or forest of Sitka spruce grows densely, and provides shady, protective shelter for wildlife, including fox and deer. A few hawks, including the sparrowhawk, like to nest in the tree, and they also find it to be a good hunting area. The tree also provides shelter and food for other types of birds, including the siskin and the crossbill.