Minnesota’s state species: Their past, present, and uncertain future

Norway (Red) Pine (1953)

old red pine, state tree

Minnesota’s state tree, the Norway (red) pine // Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The red “Norway” pine, Pinus resinosa, became Minnesota’s official state tree on February 18, 1953, thanks to the Friday Study Club and the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Club.

Estimates show that the red pine once represented nearly 30 percent of the six million acres of pine trees in the pre-lumber drive forests of Minnesota. The tree was labeled the red pine, or “Norway” pine, due to its resemblance to the Norwegian Scotch pine, a tree familiar to Minnesota’s European settlers. The red pine can grow up to a height of 80 feet and a diameter of 40 inches, and live up to 400 years.

The red pine flourishes in Minnesota due to its ability to withstand the wind and cold, as well as its propensity to thrive in areas of poor or exposed soils. As a result, most red pines can be found in the northern and northeastern forests of Minnesota. The USDA Forest Service estimates that nearly 1.9 million acres of red pine currently exist in the Lake State region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan), due largely to massive planting drives over the last 70 years, which have resulted in a nearly five-fold increase in red pine after early logging cleared most of the states’ forests.

Dr. Brian Palik, a research ecologist and team leader for the USDA’s Northern Research Station, says there are several threats to the red pine’s long-term sustainability in Minnesota. Concerns include the browsing of seedlings by deer, wildfires, and shoot blight diseases. Dr. Palik also listed climate change as a major issue for northern red pine populations, explaining that rising temperatures will make it “increasingly difficult to maintain red pine” here in Minnesota in the next 50 years.

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