Making It Official
This Fourth of July we will celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the independence of these great United States. One thing that makes it so great is that our country consists of 50 different states, each with its own identity, culture and history that contributes to the richness of the entire nation. Today, let’s explore one of the ways the states express their personalities, through the designation of various official state symbols. State symbols become official through acts of state legislatures and those bodies have been busy designating everything from birds, flowers and music to dinosaurs, rocks and stars to represent their states.
All 50 states have official state birds, though Pennsylvania’s ruffed grouse is officially a “state game bird.” Seven states claim the impressive cardinal as their bird, but surprisingly, not Missouri. But just across the river from St. Louis, Illinois begins the cardinal block of adjacent states that continues with Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, both Virginia and West Virginia, and finally ending in North Carolina. Of the six states taking the western meadowlark as state bird, Oregon is westernmost on the coast, separated from the Great Plains states stretching from Montana to Kansas. California’s state bird is the California quail, while also exporting the California gull to Utah and the California roadrunner to New Mexico.
Official state flowers are more diverse, and many states have adopted both state flowers and wildflowers. Roses and violets are popular choices, but specific varieties are the ones designated as the official floral emblem. Trees are also official symbols of every state, with evergreens like pine, spruce, fir and cedar leading the overall numbers, but oak species are eight state trees. The state tree of Oregon, the metasequoia, was also the official state fossil because it was thought to be extinct. Living metasequoias were discovered in a remote area of China, and seeds were brought back to the U.S. for cultivation.
California was the first state to officially designate a state insect, the California dog-faced butterfly, in 1972. Forty-five states have since designated official insects, and one-third of those have selected the European honeybee. Because of their beauty, a number of states have official butterflies in addition to another state insect. In February 2018, Indiana became the latest to name a state insect when it selected the Say’s firefly to light up their summer evenings.
We could go on looking at official state fish, reptiles (and amphibians), foods and minerals. In 1996, New Mexico’s legislature became the first and, so far, only state to adopt an official state question: “Red or Green?”, referring to which chile someone would like to enjoy on their food. A lot of people may feel an official question should be: “How do state legislatures have time to deal with such seemingly trivial matters given the many challenges our states and nation face?” When you investigate the background of these legislative acts, you will find that many movements to designate official state symbols originate at the grass roots level. They arise from environmental and conservation efforts, classroom research projects from elementary to collegiate, and out of support for local commerce, tourism and agriculture.
Our symbols do mean something to us, and they are often important enough for us to make them official. And sometimes we need to adopt two or three new ones to be inclusive. They help express our culture, show who we are as people and remind us of home. If you’d like to learn more about the symbols of the state you live in – or one you came from – check out https://statesymbolsusa.org/
About Tim Crawford
Tim Crawford worked at Keenan for more than 20 years and is now a freelance writer in Santa Fe, NM. He consults for the company on communication, media relations and health care reform projects. He strongly feels that the official state answer should be “Green.”