Nebraska City, Neb., Dec. 15, 2004--America has the grandest trees on earth--the largest, the oldest, and some of the most magnificent. Now, with Congressional passage and presidential signing of a historic bill, America has an official National Tree--the oak.

Congress passed legislation so designating the oak in November. The official recognition of oak as America’s National Tree reflects a vote hosted by The National Arbor Day Foundation at its website, arborday.org, in which Americans of all ages and from all walks of life helped choose the country’s newest national symbol.

"Having oak as our National Tree is in keeping with the wishes of the hundreds of thousands of people who helped choose this striking symbol of our nation’s great strength," said John Rosenow, president of The National Arbor Day Foundation. "The United States is blessed with a wealth of tree species--more than twice as many as all of Europe--and trees have played a key role in our nation’s history. Naming a national tree is a cause for celebration for us all. We’re grateful to the leadership of Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska for helping this become a reality."

"As Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, I appreciate how trees and forests enhance the environment, add recreational opportunities, and provide for the livelihoods of millions of individuals in the forest industry," said Congressman Goodlatte. "The oak has long been an enduring and mighty tree. It is truly a part of our national heritage and merits the formal distinction of America’s National Tree."

"The oak tree will now be as much a symbol of America as Thanksgiving Day, Old Glory, the Star Spangled Banner, and the bald eagle," Senator Nelson said. "It is a fine choice to represent our nation’s strength, as it grows from just an acorn into a powerful entity whose many branches continue to strengthen and reach skyward with every passing year."

The oak was selected during a four-month-long open voting process hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation. From the first day of voting, oak was the people’s clear choice, finishing with more than 101,000 votes, compared to almost 81,000 for the magnificent runner-up, the redwood. Rounding out the top five were the dogwood, maple, and pine.

As part of the process, people were invited to vote for one of 21 candidate trees, based on broad tree categories (genera) that included the state trees of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, or to write in any other tree selection. "We undertook this vote to remind Americans of just how important trees are to us all, and to emphasize the history and grandeur of our trees," Rosenow said.

Advocates of the oak praised its diversity, with more than 60 species growing in the United States, making oaks America’s most widespread hardwoods. Throughout America’s history, oaks have been prized for their shade, beauty, and lumber. They have also been a part of many important events, from Abraham Lincoln’s use of the Salt River Ford Oak as a marker in crossing a river near Homer, Illinois, to Andrew Jackson taking shelter under Louisiana’s Sunnybrook Oaks on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. In the annals of military history, "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution, took its nickname from the strength of its live oak hull, famous for repelling British cannonballs.

More information about America’s National Tree and all of the other candidate trees is available at arborday.org, the official website of The National Arbor Day Foundation. The Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization that inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.