The State Tree of North Carolina

Not just the highest honor in the state: it's also the state tree.

Longleaf Pine forest
••• John Elk III / Getty Images

In 1963, the pine tree was designated as North Carolina's state tree. There are eight species of pine tree found in the state (Eastern White, Loblolly, Longleaf, Pitch, Pond, Shortleaf, Table Mountain and Virginia), but no single variety is the "official" one. Many people consider the Long Leaf Pine the state's official variety, primarily due to the fact that North Carolina's highest civilian honor is called "The Order of the Long Leaf Pine."

Different Types of Pine

Because it grows quickly and grows well in sandy or acidic soil (which most of our soil is), the "Pinus palustris" is the most commonly found tree in the state. It's named the longleaf pine because it does indeed have the longest needs in the pine family - needles that can grow up to over 18 inches long! This tree is easy to identify because the needles always grow in bunches of three. The longleaf pine can live several centuries, with a ​slow-growing one living over 300 years.

The Southern long leaf pine, a slightly different tree, is the official state tree of Alabama. This tree was once incredibly popular across the nation, covering over 90 million acres of land (from Virginia to Florida on the east coast, stretching west through Louisiana and Texas). Today though, it covers only about 3% of that area. It was essentially considered an unlimited resource for early settlers, with entire forests being cleared for use.

Because of the exceptional quality, it was often used for building ships and railroads. Instead of replanting the longleaf pine variety, foresters planted varieties that grew much more quickly. They're pretty useful and durable in their life as trees as well. They are especially durable to strong storms, are pretty tolerant to posts, and more fire resistant than many other trees, and remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

Pine is probably the most important wood in the construction industry, and up until the 1860s, North Carolina provided much of the nation's pine.

The Order of the Longleaf Pine

The highest honor a civilian can receive in North Carolina bears the name of this tree. It was originally intended solely for visiting dignitaries, but it's now been extended to honor notable individuals. The "Order of the Longleaf Pine" is awarded to people who have a "proven record of extraordinary service to the state." Notable recipients include Maya Angelou, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, and Danny Glover. It was first awarded in 1964 and has been given to over 15,000 people.