Alabama has many things to celebrate

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 4, 2019

Have you ever heard of the Basilosaurus Cetoides? If so, you know that it is our state fossil. In case you might have forgotten, like I did, it represents a primitive whale from which fossilized bones were discovered in Clarke, Choctaw and Washington counties more than 100 years ago. It was a member of the meat-eating whale family.

One skeleton is on display at the McWane Center in Birmingham and another in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

I am sure you are more knowledgeable about some of Alabama’s other symbols. Everyone should know our state flower is the camellia. It has not always had that distinction. In my grammar school days, we were taught it was the prolific weed goldenrod. As I remember now, but probably took little notice of then, the yellow plant lined both sides of the dusty roads on our school bus route in a coal mining area of Jefferson County. Goldenrod was everywhere. Regardless of losing its claim to fame in 1957 to the more sophisticated camellia, it still marches proudly all over Alabama.

There is a story about the name of our state bird, the yellowhammer. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, the nickname originated during the Civil War when a company of Alabama soldiers paraded in uniforms trimmed in yellow. The bright spot of yellow called to mind the patch of yellow under the wings of the yellowhammer.

We have two state fish, the tarpon and the bass. The tarpon was first designated as the state fish, but was changed to the state saltwater fish and the largemouth bass is the state freshwater fish.

Our game bird is the wild turkey. I might have been ignorant of this until I started working at The Andalusia Star-News years ago. Proud hunters brought their catch of wild turkeys to the news office for photographs during turkey hunting season. I even snapped a few pictures of those although I always hoped one of the other reporters got that assignment.

Our state tree is the Southern Longleaf pine and the state mineral is red iron ore. It is easy to understand why a species of pine trees was selected, but red iron ore as the state mineral might need some study. It is enlightening to research the iron and steel industry in this state and the big part iron ore played in it. Back in the mid-1980s, my husband and I took a break on a road trip at Tannehill Historic State Park. There we discovered the park’s informative iron and steel museum.

Did you know we have a state rock? It is marble. The state nut is pecan. The state horse is the racking horse and the state gemstone is the Star Blue Quartz.

I almost forgot to mention our state dance. Yep, you guessed it, the square dance, designated in 1981.

Did you learn what the name Alabama means somewhere in your studies? It is derived from an Indian word meaning “thicket cleaners.”

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.