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Things you learned in Latin. Or not. - March 24, 2017

Flickr/Lotus Johnson

Q: Like other states, Kansas has an official this, that and the other. For example, we have an official state insect, flower and animal - the honeybee, sunflower and the American buffalo, respectively. Eighty years ago this week, something else became official. Scientifically, it's called Populus deltoides. What's the common name for our official state tree?

A: Cottonwood 
Calling the cottonwood tree "the pioneer of the prairie," the Kansas Legislature designated the cottonwood the official state tree of Kansas in 1937. In fact, it was on March 23, 1937 -- 80 years ago this week -- that it became official. Sometimes called the Plains cottonwood, the scientific name for this tree is Populus deltoides. The Kansas legislation did not specify a particular variety of cottonwood, and there's disagreement about the classification of cottonwoods that grow in the state.  
Populus deltoides has been referred to as the eastern cottonwood.But, some botanists recognize two variations of Populus deltoides. So, which is the official Kansas state tree? Both varieties grow in Kansas, so... we really don't know. To further complicate matters, the eastern cottonwood is also referred to as southern cottonwood, Carolina poplar, eastern poplar, necklace poplar, or álamo. Say, what? I know, we really should have hired a botanist to write this. The plains cottonwood is the state tree of Wyoming. However, in Wyoming's legislation, it's not referred to as a variation of Populus deltoides but as Populus sargentii! So, there's that too.
Fun fact: Cottonwood trees are grown in large plantations for their pulp, which makes the finest paper for stationary and hard-bound books.

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