During the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, I changed schools each year. And each time I changed that was the year that school district taught Arkansas History. Three years in a row. Every year, I studied from the same textbook, because at that time there was only one textbook for public school Arkansas History studies. You would think that I would become sick of it but the opposite happened. I craved it and loved impressing my fellow classmates with my knowledge. Well, I don’t actually know how impressed 10 and 11-year-olds of the mid-eighties were by my unique skill set but I liked knowing things that others didn’t.
I always loved learning about the state symbols. Why they were chosen and what part they played in Arkansas’s history were intriguing to me. Many of the symbols reflect the state’s agricultural crops both past and present, cultural traditions, or the bounty of our natural landscape.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas Parks and Tourism
The very first state symbol chosen was the apple blossom as the official state flower. It was largely selected because apples were a successful cash crop at the turn of the 20th century with over 400 varieties being grown in the state. Even though the industry isn’t what it used to be in our state, the apple blossom remains a state symbol celebrated during the annual Apple Festival in Washington County. Another state symbol heralding from the plant kingdom is our state tree the pine because of its economic significance as a renewable resource.
Arkansas’ geology is vast and varied attributing to an abundance of resources found in the very elements that make up the land we walk upon. The diamond is our official state gem because Arkansas is one of the few areas in North America where they are found in the natural rock. The Crater of Diamonds State Park offers visitors the opportunity of digging up their own treasures. Bauxite is our state rock and is needed in the production of aluminum which proved to be quite an economic boom for much of the 20th century due to its use during wartime. Quartz crystals have long been prized by rock collectors and served useful in communication equipment during the wartime 1940s until synthetic crystals took their place. But nevertheless, the abundance of quartz in Arkansas led them to hold the title of official state mineral.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas Parks and Tourism
And thanks to the amazing combination of minerals and nutrients in our soil, agriculture crops have played strong roles in the cultural and economic past and present of Arkansas. Rice is our state grain with more than 50 percent of the state’s counties having rice farms and making Arkansas the top rice-producing state in the nation. Technically a fruit, but more commonly consumed as a vegetable, the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato holds the title of both the state fruit and the state vegetable which is celebrated with a festival in Bradley County every year.
You can toast a couple of more state symbols by enjoying a glass of milk, our state drink or a local Arkansas wine made from our state grape the Cynthiana. And how would enjoy all these great food items from our great state? You can experience cooking methods that were used by the explorers and pioneers of an early Arkansas by firing up the Dutch Oven the official state historic cooking vessel.
Included in the natural beauty of our state is the wildlife that populates the many geographic regions. The mockingbird was declared our state bird because of its benefits to farmers and for its beautiful songs. The honeybee was declared the state insect because it’s diligence to hard work, home protection habits, and productivity which was reflected in the citizens of Arkansas. The third winged creature to represent Arkansas is our state butterfly the Diana fritillary. It makes its home in the moist and mountainous regions of 27 counties of the state. And we cannot forget the creatures that trod upon the land.
The state mammal is the whitetail deer and a favorite of hunters which contribute to a booming recreational economy. Most recently and possibly the oldest inhabitant of the state has been added with Arkansaurus Fridayi as our official state dinosaur.
Music plays an important role in our state’s history and continues to our current day. The fiddle is our state instrument. Its portability made it a favorite of traveling explorers and pioneers and it can still be seen as a vital part of our culture in festivals around the state. And we are not short on songs dedicated to the history and heritage of our state. With genres ranging from tradition anthem, lively folk tunes to more contemporary country-pop style the importance of music to our state is undeniable. A fiddle tune “The Arkansas Traveler” was quite possibly the first unofficial song and currently hold the title of state historical song. “Arkansas” written by Eva Ware Barnett in the early 1900s is the official state anthem and a favorite among choral groups. In celebration of the state’s sesquicentennial in 1986, two songs became popular “Oh Arkansas” by Terry Rose, Gary Klaff, and Mark Weinstein and “Arkansas (You Run Deep in Me)” by Wayland Holyfield. All of the songs celebrate the natural beauty of our state and give all Arkansans something to sing about.
Symbols are small items to help us remember the importance and sentimentality of the larger picture. From our humble beginnings to our beautiful picturesque landscape, Arkansas boasts many things for us to be proud of and celebrate.