State officials unveiled the new standard-issue Maine license plates during a press conference Monday in Augusta. Courtesy of Maine Department of the Secretary of State

After 25 years of chickadees flying on the bumpers of Maine cars down highways and backroads, the state has unveiled the design of a new license plate that features a realistic-looking white pine tree with branches, a dark brown trunk and different shades of green needles.

Inside the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Augusta on Monday morning, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Catherine Curtis announced the new design alongside another version that does not have a tree illustration.

The state will begin issuing the new plates by May 1, 2025. The changeover should cost around $7 million, according to the Legislature, but the price tag won’t fall on vehicle owners.

The new plate was based on the original 1901 flag, with a dark green pine tree and navy blue star. Its unveiling comes amid a debate around whether Maine’s state flag should look more natural or stylized like the official maritime flag issued in 1939.

For the license plate, Bellows said the state’s Transportation Committee preferred a more realistic-looking design. But Bellows said the plate design will have no bearing on how she designs a state flag modeled after the 1901 version that voters will decide whether to adopt in an upcoming referendum vote.

Outdated license plates make it harder for law enforcement officers to identify plates that can help solve and prevent crime, officials said. They also hinder the effectiveness of automated toll collectors and traffic cameras.

Most states cycle out license plates every five to 10 years. And after 25 years, many Maine plates have deteriorated beyond identification, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles said in February.

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