State has symbol for just about everything

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 13, 2000

The friendly, familiar voice on the other end of the line wasLaurie, better half of our Sports Editor Tom Goetz.

“Nanette,” she asked, “can you tell me what the state butterflyis?”

I didn’t know that we had a state butterfly, but I told Laurieto give me a few minutes and I would see if I could track down theinformation.

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I pulled out our copy of the Mississippi Official andStatistical Register, also known as ‘the blue book’, which thestate publishes every four years. Sure enough, right there on page488, in between the State Water Mammal and the State Wildflower,was the the State Butterfly — the spicebush swallowtail (Pterourustroilus). Seems this has been our official State Butterfly since1991.

With the State Flag getting all the attention in recent months,our other Mississippi symbols are starving for some attention. Ithought I’d give them a little.

The State Coat of Arms is pretty complicated, but basically itshows an eagle and a bunch of other stuff that apparently hasn’toffended anybody in the 106 years since it was adopted.

We all know that the magnolia serves in the dual role of bothState Flower and State Tree. The magnolia blossom beat out thecotton blossom and the cape jasmine blossom in a 1900 vote amongstate school children, while the tree won handily over oak, pineand dogwood in a similar contest in 1935.

Then there’s the “cheerful Mockingbird,” which was named ourofficial bird in 1944 after winning support of the Women’sFederated Clubs.

Our motto, Virtue et Armis, which means by “valor and arms” wassuggested by James Rhea Preston, a native of Virginia who happenedto be Mississippi’s Superintendent of Education at the time. Nodate was listed, but this is the same motto that’s printed on theCoat of Arms. While Virtue et Armis, I suppose, is a perfectly goodmotto, I would prefer something I can understand, like “Gravy etBiscuits.”

Petrified wood is our State Stone, and the prehistoric whale isour State Fossil.

Our official State Beverage, adopted by the Legislature duringthe 1984 regular session, is milk. Can you believe that? What aninsult this must be to this state’s lactose-intolerantresidents!

The white-tailed deer was designated the State Land Mammal in1974, and the Red Fox was also given the honor in the 1997Legislative session. There’s no explanation as to why the stateneeds two official Land Mammals.

We also have an Official State Water Mammal, the bottlenoseddolphin, commonly called the porpoise, commonly called Flipper. Isuspect the Gulf Coast Legislative delegation led this charge, andthe one to have the oyster shell named official State Shell in1974.

The honeybee is our State Insect, and the Square Dance is ourState Dance, although one doesn’t necessarily have anything to dowith the other.

Our State Fish is the largemouth or black bass, which has heldthe honor since 1974. Personally, I think this title should go tocatfish. How many of you have ever seen an all-you-can-eatlargemouth bass buffet in this state?

The Grand Opera House of Meridian is the state’s official GrandOpera House. Since it’s probably the only grand opera house inMississippi, I guess it won by default.

The wood duck is our official State Waterfowl. Maybe if thepowers-that-be ever decide to change the state motto they’ll gofor, “How much wood could a wood duck duck if a wood duck couldduck wood?”

Our State Wildflower is the Coreopis. To me, that sounds morelike an illness that’s best treated with penicillin and discretion.My newsroom neighbor and home gardener Geri Jinks explained thatCoreopis is actually a yellow flower that resembles a daisy and isoften seen growing along roadsides. I took her word for it.

Speaking of words, English has been our official language since1987.

“Go Mississippi” is the State Song. It’s OK but nothing special.Like they used to say on American Bandstand, “It’s got a good beat,but you can’t dance to it. I’ll give it a 72.” Maybe a betterchoice would be “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Might BeJivin’ Too)” by the legendary B.B. King.

Everybody gets the blues.

Write to Nanette Laster at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, send faxes to 833-6714, or e-mail to’d love to hear from you.