Day tried again in 1921. By now, representatives of Box Elder County and Poplar Grove in Salt Lake City had other ideas. Why couldn't the state tree be the box elder? Or the poplar? They argued until the spruce bill died again.
All who have put up with box elder bugs and other quirks of the tree will be astounded to know that in 1923, the Box Elder County representative actually nominated the male box elder as the state tree (the female box elder being too messy). However, he "was asked not to further the cause lest mistakes be made in deciding the sex, and an unclean, undesirable tree be given the place of honor."
Nevertheless, in 1925, 1927 and 1929, boosters tried again to exalt the box elder. The Legislature didn't go for it.
Finally, in 1933, the blue spruce got its day. Both chambers chose the tree unanimously in an hour. It may be a coincidence, but I think not, that the Utah Federation of Women's Clubs had pushed for the blue spruce this time. No doubt echoing their arguments, the Murray Eagle wrote that the tree "is a valuable tree for lumber, is important for wood lot use, and it is one of the most beautiful of the conifers for ornamental purposes."
Lots of states had state flowers at the time, but now that the Colorado blue spruce was Utah's state tree, "Utah is very much in the lead in the adoption of an official state tree." And Utah had beat Coloradans out in claiming "their" tree, which may have been part of the hurry. Colorado adopted the blue spruce in 1939.
Over the years, some Utahns, not so impressed with "ornamental" qualities, have thought the Utah juniper (or cedar) symbolizes the state better. Not because of the name, but because it is widespread, rugged, homely and tough. Peattie writes (from his 1950s perspective), "it is as characteristic a settler as the Mormons, and in its venerable age sometimes reminds you of an old patriarch of the sect rugged and weathered and twisted by hardship, but hard, too, to discourage or kill." It's intertwined with our past: Indigenous people used the tree for structures, medicines, poultices, purification and protection, food, diapers, beads, and more. Juniper poles fenced the state; juniper logs warmed homes.
You may remember that in 2008, fourth-graders and teachers pushed for a switch to the juniper. But the Utah Cattlemen's Association scotched the movement, fearing this aggressive tree would earn special protection that would slow down juniper removal programs that increase the acres for grazing.
So we still have the blue spruce: still beautiful and symmetricaland, in my mind, not nearly as interesting as a twisted old juniper. But as history shows, no matter the topic, you'll always find someone with a different opinion.
Kristen Rogers-Iversen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sources: University of Michigan "Native American Ethnobotany" website; Utah state legislature website; Iron County Record; Davis County Clipper; Salt Lake Tribune; Salt Lake Telegram; Murray Eagle.