Each of the 50 United States has a variety of state emblems and symbols, such as state mottoes, songs, birds, flowers, grasses and trees. Nevada and California are the only two US states that have more than one state tree. The singleleaf pinyon pine and the bristlecone pine are both official trees of Nevada. The singleleaf pinyon pine was the first to be adopted as the state tree of Nevada in 1953, and it remained the only one until 1987 when the bristlecone pine was also named a state tree.
Both state trees are generally small to medium in height, ranging from about 15 to 30 feet (4.57 to 9.14 meters) tall, but are able to grow to about 60 feet (18.28 meters) in some cases. These and many other types of pine trees typically do well in the hot, dry atmosphere of Nevada and its neighboring states. Some pines are especially well-suited for the desert-like conditions and are as common as oak trees are in cooler parts of country. The Nevada state song, Home Means Nevada, even references pine trees in general as being part of the meaning of home.
The trees each chosen to be the state tree of Nevada were selected for more than just their presence in the area, however. Each one has some remarkable characteristics that distinguish it from other types of trees and pines in general. The first state tree of Nevada, the singleleaf pinyon pine, is one of the few varieties that grows edible pine nuts, for example. It is also the only known pine tree that does not grow needles in clusters. Each pine needle is single, which gives the variety its name.
Like many pines, the singleleaf grows extremely slowly and often has a dry, gnarled and knotted appearance. These trees do not usually produce pine cones for about the first 35 years of life, and seeds don’t usually appear before the trees are about 100 years old. The slow growth cycle means that many singleleaf pinyon pine trees are more than 300 years old.
Three centuries is young, however, compared to the life span of the other state tree of Nevada, the bristlecone pine. The wood from this long-lasting tree has even been used in research to improve scientific carbon dating accuracy. This notable variety of tree has the distinction of being the oldest known living tree species on Earth, and may even be the oldest living thing in general. The Methuselah Tree, a bristlecone pine tree in California that is still alive as of 2011, was found to be 4,789 years old when it was tested in 1957. Nevada’s oldest known bristlecone pine was not living when it was tested, but is believed to have lived for more than 4,800 years.