First celebrated in 1872 in Nebraska, Arbor Day is an annual event that encourages the planting of trees all over the country. Wyoming has celebrated the event for 127 years, since the 1888 Territorial Legislature passed the law proclaiming that Arbor Day be observed by schools on the last Friday in April . Even before its official start, many citizens of Wyoming were interested in and encouraged the planting of trees on the treeless plains to beautify, block wind and encourage the productivity of the native soil. Read more about the early efforts in the Wyoming Newspaper Project.
In 1947, the State Legislature designated the Cottonwood as Wyoming’s official state tree. The specimen tree, thought to be the largest cottonwood in the world at the time, was located on the Clyde Cover ranch near Thermopolis. In 1941, the diameter of the tree’s truck measured 29 feet around at a point 4 ½ feet off the ground and was estimated to be about 60 feet tall. Unfortunately, this exceptional tree was lost to fire in 1955.
In 1961, it was discovered that the incorrect scientific name for the state tree was used in the 1947 bill, so the legislature amended the statute to read Populous saragentii rather than Populous balsamifera.
A new specimen tree was chosen in 1990, just in time for the state’s centennial. The new official tree was found through a contest sponsored by the Wyoming Chapter of the Society of American Foresters. The winner and largest tree nominated measured 31 feet in circumference, 64 feet tall and the average crown spread (how far the branches stick out) was just over 100 feet. The tree is located on the Flying X Ranch in Eastern Albany County. According to the story told in 1990 by Owen McGill, who had owned the ranch for many years, the tree had been planted around 1890 by Arthur Dover of England who had homesteaded at that spot in 1885. Dover had carefully tended the tree for many years and took great pride in his sapling, as did the McGills, who purchased the ranch in 1908.
Other historical trees of note in Wyoming:
– The “Wedding Tree”—This tree stood at the crossroads between Glendo and Esterbrook and was a convenient place to perform ceremonies, being halfway between these communities in Northern Albany and Southern Converse counties and Douglas, the closest courthouse.
– The Indian Sign Tree—This tree was found on the A.B. Fowler Ranch near Sunrise, Wyoming. In 1922, it was estimated to be about 400 years old and showed carvings of Indian signs, canoes, river boats and the dates 1854 and 1856. This tree was cut down in 1922 in order to preserve the carvings as the tree’s location was drowned by the reservoir. According to contemporary newspapers, the portion of the tree with the carvings was brought to the Platte County Library.
– The “Mystery Tree”—This Crook County tree, near the site of Welcome, Wyoming, was a giant pine tree that served as a marker for a group of hidden cabins purportedly used either by either the Hat Creek bandits or miners hiding from soldiers during the Black Hills Gold Rush. A scaffold had been built up the side of the tree and the tree was felled at this point, leaving a very tall stump some 3 feet in diameter.
– The Tree-in-the-Rock—Still one of the most memorable sites on I-80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, the pine tree grows out of a crack in a large granite boulder. Originally on the Union Pacific Railroad line, legend has it that the tree was watered and kept alive by train crews who watered the tree when they passed it going up the summit. The tree was a major landmark on the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, when it took the place of the tracks when they were moved farther south. Lincoln Highway became I-80.
– The National Capitol Christmas Tree—Found off of Pacific Creek in Bridger-Teton National Forest, the 65 foot tall conifer was selected and transported to Washington D.C. to serve as the official U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in 2010. This was the first tree of this distinction to come from Wyoming.