Michigan, and in many other states,
fourth graders begin to learn the
geography and history of the United
States. Many teachers have their students complete
the students each draw a poster of
their chosen state and, invariably,
they include the state bird and
state tree. Sometimes they even
include the state flower and insect.
children often erroneously assume
that their particular
state bird or tree lives only in
that state. And they often make the
mistake of thinking the bird or
tree is not found in their home state.
Did you know that all states, with
the single exception of Hawaii, have chosen native
trees to represent their state? What a great
opportunity to teach students about
many of our wonderful
The simple mapping
exercise described below can also
help them learn about the relationship
of geographical boundaries and ecological boundaries,
and about specialist and generalist
species (specialists have very narrow
habitat requirements, whereas generalists
have a more or less ubiquitous distribution).
Of course, you wouldn’t need to use those
rather unwieldy terms. Just seeing
the maps that they create will visually
impress the concepts upon the students.
Better yet, follow up the mapping
exercise with a walk around the school campus
or neighborhood to collect leaves from as many
state trees as you can.
Project Map by Cena Larsen
What you will need
• Tree identification books with species distribution
(e.g., Audubon Field Guides). The
number of books will depend on
whether or not you want the entire class working
on the mapping at once. Try to be
sure to have books that will cover both eastern
and western species. If your school library does
not have field guides, you may be able to borrow
them from your community library, or you might
ask the PTA or local Mothers Club to purchase
the books for the library. The students
could also search on the web, especially
for species like Hawaii’s
• Bird identification books with species distribution
maps (same as above).
• Black and white maps of the United States
(one for each
• Colored pencils.
How to proceed
• Have each student look up his
or her tree species, using the common
name in the book’s index. Have them approximate
the distribution shape on their map
and shade it in with a colored pencil or devise
a symbol to represent the distribution.
• Have each student look up his or her bird
species and approximate the bird’s distribution
on their United States map in a color different
from the one they used for the tree’s distribution.
Decide ahead of time if you want them
to shade both summer and winter distributions,
or just pick one depending upon where you live.
• Be prepared to hear comments like, “Wow,
I need to sharpen
my pencil again! – Robins live all over
the United States!” or “I’m
done because the black hills spruce is only
in this tiny spot between South Dakota and
• Ask them if their tree or bird might live
in their home state. Have they
seen the tree or bird in their community? Do you have
any of the trees growing on your school campus? Go
out and visit them
if you can.
• After looking at their maps you may want
to discuss the relationship of
the political, geographical, and ecological
boundaries (e.g., does the bird’s range
stop at the Rocky Mountains or
the Mississippi River?). And you
might want to talk
about which birds and trees seem
to be specialists and which
might be generalists. (Specialists
have very narrow habitat requirements,
whereas generalists have a more or
Some interesting state
• All states, except Hawaii, have chosen native
• Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the most
chosen by four states (New York,
Vermont, Wisconsin, and
• Cottonwood (Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming),
(Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee)
and dogwood (Missouri,
North Carolina, and Virginia)
are tied for second most popular.
• Pine is the most popular genus with eight
• Oak is the next most popular genus with
four or five species.
• Pecan (Texas is the only hickory representative.)
• Notably missing: American beech is not chosen
by any state.
• Michigan is home to 14 different species
representing 25 states
(10 of which are growing on my
son and daughter’s school
Botanical Resources for the
Noting that, “Today’s students are
so busy that they do not stop
and view what is in their environment,” Kathy
Gann of Stephens High School in Stephens,
Arkansas, has set up a web
site about leaves.