As Colonel Teddy Roosevelt led his Rough Riders to the top of San Juan Hill in Cuba, he yelled “Remember the Maine!” in tribute to the fallen sailors from the USS Maine who died in a controversial explosion in Santiago Harbor.
Maine designated the white pine cone and tassel (Pinus strobus, linnaeus) as the official state floral emblem in 1895. The white pine (also the state tree of Maine) is considered the largest conifer in the northeastern United States. Maine’s nickname is “the pine tree state” and the eastern white pine appears on the state flag, seal, and Maine quarter.
Selection of a state floral emblem was inspired by the “National Garland of Flowers” at the 1893 World’s Fair, which was made of individual state flowers or floral emblems which were specified by each of the state legislatures (many states selected their official flower symbol as a direct result of this garland).
The resident’s of Maine voted on three candidates: goldenrod, apple blossom, and the pine cone and tassel. Though the pine cone and tassel is not a flower, the choice is not surprising for the citizens of Maine considering the role of the white pine in Maine’s history.
Botanically, the white pine cone and tassel are not flowers, they are gymnosperm (producing seeds without flowers). Pine trees have male and female cones; the male pine cones are small and fall off the tree after pollination. The female pine cones grow larger after being pollinated and take months, sometimes years to mature and fall.
In no way does that meam that Maine is devoid of wildflowers. Here are a few as the mountains, river valleys, and seashore abound in color during the warmer seasons. Of particular note is Acadia National Park which abutts the North Atlantic where among the granite crags and towering white pine are an abundance of wildflowers.
One thing about the Pine Cone and Tassel – since it is not a flower it becomes easy to “Remember the Maine” state floral emblem, (pun was intended). One last look before we head down the coast to our next alphabetical state – Maryland – whose state wildflower is a real flower.