The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is the official state tree for Kentucky and has been since it was officially adopted back in 1994. It is an incredibly popular tree across the entire nation, with two other states (Tennessee and Indiana) both recognizing the tree as their state tree too.
Tulip trees hold a great deal of cultural and historical significance within the bluegrass state, both from the past and present. They are the tallest eastern hardwood tree and produce large tulip-looking flowers during the spring months, with an aromatic fragrance of nectar that is used to attract birds.
Kentucky first began adopting its own official state symbols in 1792, the first symbol was the state seal. A few years after this, many other symbols were adopted, each having a role to play in the history of the bluegrass state and all intertwining together nicely. The tulip tree is also the host plant of the Kentucky state butterfly!
What is the State Tree of Kentucky?
Despite being officially adopted as Kentucky’s state tree in 1994, the Kentucky General Assembly took note that the state needed an official state tree all the way back in 1956. There were many Kentuckians attempting to push for the Indian cigar tree (catalpa tree), and the sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) to become the official state tree. Regardless of their best efforts, the tulip poplar became the state tree of Kentucky instead.
Strangely enough, after some years had passed, the Kentucky General Assembly gathered again in 1973 and took up the issue of the state tree again.
The assembly and Kentucky people were under the assumption that the tulip tree was adopted officially in 1956, however, an investigation found that in the 1956 legislation, there was no official adoption of the tulip tree as the official Kentucky state tree, how strange!
Regardless of how this error occurred, it meant that Kentucky was without an official state tree that can be used to represent the state’s deep and important history. Shortly after this new discovery, a newspaper columnist named Joe Creason created a campaign to adopt the Kentucky coffee tree as the official state tree, and it went well.
There were still many Kentuckians who were more traditionalists, preferring to opt for the safe and already debated tulip tree, however, there was also an overwhelming amount of support for Joe Creason’s campaign!
Those who voted for the original tree to remain, or technically, become the new one felt the original assembly should be honored as it was originally intended.
Kentucky State Tree History
Historians began to research the historical significance of the Kentucky coffee tree to find out how much of a positive impact it had on the state. It was discovered that the seeds were once roasted by Native American tribes residing in Kentucky, then ground up and used as a coffee alternative by the European settlers. In more recent years, the coffee trees are still being used to extract coffee derivatives, and the wood is highly valued.
In 1974, it had been reported that the tulip poplar tree was starting to bridge the gap over the Kentucky coffee tree in terms of popularity, with the consensus supporting the tulip tree. There are many animals and insects that take up home within tulip trees, including the Kentucky state animal.
However, on August 14, 1974, Joe Creason, unfortunately, passed away. He was a well-known writer and journalist at this point and had worked as a sports reporter, feature writer, and columnist over a thirty-year career.
His death reignited the state tree debate, and on March 8, 1776, Senate Bill No. 150 was finally approved and the Kentucky coffee tree became the official Kentucky state tree. Over 10 years after this, in 1988, House Bill No. 826 was introduced, and it resulted in the Kentucky coffee tree being revised as the state tree. Then, in 1994, the state tree was reversed back to the original tulip tree.
Most states will have their symbols showcase a relevant story, that is indicative of the state and its history, and the Bluegrass State puts its history and what it stands for across very well in the Kentucky state tree. In addition to a state tree, Kentucky also has a state bird and flower that represent the state.
These interesting facts about Kentucky and a whole host of others are what makes the state so unique and fascinating to those that live there or are researching the historical events or geological makeup of the state.