What Is the State Tree of Kentucky?

What is the state tree of Kentucky? What rich historical significance lies behind the crowning of Kentucky’s state tree? Kentucky’s current state tree endured a turbulent road to achieve its title.

As Louisville’s tree service experts, our arborists detail its perilous path. Read on to follow the journey.   

Other State Tree Candidates

The story begins in 1956 when the Kentucky General Assembly chose Kentucky’s first state tree. Before they settled on a final native tree, they discussed and squablled about a couple of other candidates: the Indian cigar tree and the sycamore tree. But what characteristics made these candidates such strong opponents in the state tree race? 

what is the state tree of kentucky

Indian Cigar Tree

The Indian cigar tree, also known as the catalpa, got its name from a Native American tribe known as the Catawba. The reference to cigars came from the long, slender fruits produced by the tree, which resembled cigars. It features attractive white flowers that resemble orchid clusters. 


Sycamore trees are timeless features for any backyard or forest. Their mottled bark resembles camouflage patterns. Property owners prize them for their ability to cleanse the air surrounding them. 

What Is the State Tree of Kentucky?

A different aspirant would win the title. What is the state tree of Kentucky? The final vote landed in favor of the tulip poplar.

Tulip poplars are known for their attractive wood which features patterns of deep ridges. As a member of the beloved magnolia family, it blossoms each spring. The unique blooms feature greenish-yellow petals with a striking orange stripe.

You can understand how such a stately tree earned this enviable title. However, the tulip poplar’s reign would briefly end nearly 20 years later. State politicians would debate its legitimacy.  

The Tulip Poplar Dethroned and Reinstated

In 1973, the Kentucky General Assembly discovered what they believed to be a clerical error that nullified the tulip poplar’s title. The Kentucky Statutes did not contain an official recording of the state tree. Thus, the Assembly reopened the issue, temporarily ousting the attractive tulip poplar from its coveted position. 

The Brief Reign of the Kentucky Coffee Tree

After years of debate and discussion, the Kentucky coffee tree would finally win the state tree title in 1976. Although the Kentucky coffee tree didn’t possess an attractively patterned trunk or eye-catching flowers, it did boast a long, rich history with Kentucky natives.

The people who settled Kentucky used the tree’s legume pods as a coffee replacement, hence the tree’s name. After the state senate named it the state tree of Kentucky, sales of tree saplings, art, and other novelty products bearing the tree’s likeness or name soared. The Kentucky coffee tree held its title for nearly 20 years before the tulip poplar returned. 

The Return of the Tulip Poplar

Throughout the decades, Kentucky citizens would argue in favor of their original state tree. Despite its long Kentucky history, the Kentucky coffee tree didn’t hold a candle to the tulip poplar’s popularity. In 1994, lobbyists in favor of either tree would battle to secure their preferred tree’s place as the state tree.

Some lobbyists even suggested allowing both trees to hold the title. However, this effort would never come to fruition. In March 1994, the tulip poplar reclaimed its now permanent and undisputable position of Kentucky state tree. 

Should You Plant a Tulip Poplar? Find Out from New Leaf Tree Service

As a Kentucky resident, you want to celebrate your patriotism toward your state and the United States of America in general by planting the state tree. What is the state tree of Kentucky? A large tree with specific requirements! Our team at New Leaf Tree Service recommends you assess the risks of planting big trees first. Request a free estimate at (502) 419-9899.

Are trees on your property dying, falling down, or causing you concern? We are ready to hear from you! If you have dying trees, ugly stumps, or just need your landscape cleaned up from fallen debris, reach out today.

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4124 Bishop Ln 103
Louisville , Ky 40218

(502) 419-9899