Here’s the deal. State symbols are out of control. They’re designed to celebrate cultural heritage and natural treasures, but the sheer number of state symbols renders them increasingly meaningless. (Believe it or not, all of the symbols listed below are real).
Let’s start with the basics – every state has a state tree (South Dakota’s, for example, is the Black Hills Spruce), but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do when we encounter a state tree….stop and salute? And what other parts of nature do our states celebrate? Did you know that all fifty have a state soil? That’s right, take pride in your state dirt. Most have a state flower. 43 have a state fossil. 35 have a state gemstone. 27 have a state rock. 21 have a state mineral (how can you think of “rhodochrosite” without calling up images of Colorado?) 17 have a state grass. And 14 have a state shell. Is it just me, or do we really not need a state rock?
And then there are the animals. So many animals. Each has a state bird. 42 have a state mammal. 41 have a state insect. 29 have a state butterfly. 26 have a state reptile. Then there are state amphibians (like New Hampshire’s famous red-spotted newt), state horses, dogs, cats, and fish (my favorite being Hawaii’s state fish, the “humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa”). There are even state crustaceans and three states recognize a state bat.
How about creatures that are no longer with us? Yep, we got that too. In 1982, Colorado declared the Stegosaurus as its state dinosaur. And, since then, five other states have adopted their own dino.
Thirty three states express their pride by celebrating some type of state food. Mostly, these are state nuts, fruits, vegetables and beverages. But there’s more. Five have a state pie (next time you’re in Florida, show your appreciation with a slice of Key Lime). Georgia’s state prepared food is grits (I don’t know if you’ve ever had grits, but they could also be the state adhesive). The state snack food of Illinois is popcorn. Louisiana has a state jelly (something called “mayhaw”). Maine’s state soft drink is Moxie and their state treat is the whoopie pie. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, though, perhaps you should head south to Massachusetts where they have a state dessert, cookie and doughnut. The jalapeno is the state pepper of Texas. Minnesota has a state mushroom (the morel). Oklahoma loves its food…they don’t mess around with individual items, they’ve got ten state meals. And North Carolina has both a state red berry (the strawberry) and a state blue berry (the blueberry…way to think outside of the box, North Carolina).
As evidenced by Oklahoma’s appetite, states don’t even bother to limit themselves to a single symbol per category. They’re so symbol happy, they just can’t help themselves. While 23 have adopted a state color, Maryland claims four (why not just save the time and go with, “all of the above?”). Almost every state has a song. New Hampshire has ten. (Think about it…this means that, at a minimum, ten people have written songs about New Hampshire).
And isn’t the point of all this to showcase what is unique to your state? You’d think so, but not so much. Seven states have voted the cardinal as their symbol. Of the 29 with a butterfly, eight of them are the monarch (in their defense, is there any other type of butterfly?) Seventeen states claim the honeybee as their state instinct (that’s a lot of area to represent they must be as busy as a ….well…). Of the 29 states with a state beverage, 20 of them are milk. (My favorite state beverage, however is Indiana’s – water. Keeping it real, Hoosiers). 29 also celebrate a state dance…21 of which are the square dance. So, if you see a cardinal, monarch butterfly, honeybee, glass of milk or square dance, then you’re probably in…a state.
On the opposite side of the coin, some states are perhaps too unique. Strangely unique. Utah and Arizona have a state firearm, symbolizing, I suppose, the pride they take in shooting things. Maryland’s state sport is jousting (really? Really, Maryland? You do a lot of jousting there, do you?) Pennsylvania’s state toy is the Slinky. I’m watching you, Pennsylvania…you too, Illinois, because of the popcorn (Makya McBee vs. the Slinky is here, and popcorn is here). New Mexico’s state aircraft is the hot air balloon (“Hot air balloons…slightly faster than walking.”) Arizona’s state neckware is the bola tie. (What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall the day they passed that key legislation). Utah has a state cooking pot and a state astronomical symbol (come on, Utah, that’s outer space, that’s not even something that can be found in your state. Stop cheating. That’s like having a state planet, it doesn’t make any sense.) Montana has a state lullaby. Delaware, always on the cutting edge of orgainisms with miniscule spines, has a state macroinvertebrate (the stonefly, of course). Kentucky has a state covered bridge and silverware pattern. The state exercise of Maryland is walking (“Walking…slightly slower than a hot air balloon”). Massachusetts has a state polka. North Carolina has had a state toast since 1957. Guess what it’s called? Hint, it’s called, “A Toast to North Carolina.” (Between that and North Carolina’s blueberry as state blue berry, they win the obvious state symbol award…it’s a lovely trophy called the Obvious State Symbol Award). Oklahoma has a state cartoon character. Texas has a state caricature artist and is now the first state to propose a state molecule (I’m on the edge of my seat). Alabama has a state quilt and horseshoe tournament. And Tennessee has a state bicentennial rap song. It’s called “A Tennessee Bicentennial Rap” and beat out, literally, zeroes of other bicentennial rap songs to take home the honor.
You see what I’m saying, right? It’s a bit much.
So, how am I going to do it? How will I stop U.S. state symbols from replicating like a Gremlin in a swimming pool? I have no idea. It’s wildly overwhelming. I feel like a California dogface butterfly lost in a field of California poppies. I think I just need to take this one step at a time. Step one…try to figure out how to pronounce humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa…