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T

EXAS has a reputation to live up to. That may explain its bigger-than-life state symbols.

   No, the second largest state didn’t adopt the blue whale and California redwood as its state animal and tree. Rather, it’s the fierce devotion residents display to the symbols they did adopt that sets Texas apart.

   Texas’ state flag is treated with the reverence normally accorded national flags. Of course, I should point out that the lone-star flag—which boasts the same colors as the United States flag—once flew over an independent nation. That nation was the Republic of Texas, which existed from 1836 to 1845.

   Similarly, the Texas bluebonnet is among the most beloved of state flowers. (An few people did more to publicize wildflowers than Texan Ladybird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson.)

   The Texas-sized appetite for official symbols has spawned enough symbols to satisfy two or three ordinary states. Among the most mundane are the mockingbird and monarch butterfly. The mockingbird is the most popular state bird in the South, also representing Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, and Tennessee. The monarch is merely the most celebrated native North American insect, also representing Alabama, Illinois, Vermont, and Idaho.

   Three Texas symbols that were adopted quite recently long reigned as famous unofficial Texas symbols. These are the Texas horned lizard, armadillo, and Texas longhorn. You could probably add Texas’ official plant, the prickly pear cactus, to this list, also. (Where would Pecos Bill have been without a bed of prickly pears to sleep on after riding Texas longhorns all day?)

   The Mexican free-tailed bat is among the tiniest of Texas symbols. But it reigns as the only official state flying mammal and is the only state mammal that’s really nocturnal to boot. It also marks Texas as the only state besides Florida to recognize three official mammals.

   Texans take their plants just as seriously. The grasslands that Texas longhorns range across are represented by Texas’ official grass, sideoats grama. A Texas mockingbird could find no better perch than a pecan tree, the official Lone Star tree. Texas is the only state to recognize an official shrub, the crape myrtle.

   Several official Texan plants are domestics, though hardly tame. They are the red grapefruit (Texas’s official fruit), sweet onion (the official vegetable), and chiltepin and jalapeņo peppers. Texas peppers complement the state dish, chili. Oh yes, cotton is Texas’s official fiber and fabric.

   Texas’ waters are represented by the Guadalupe bass and a “seashell” known as the lightning whelk. (Contrary to rumors, oil—a souvenir of prehistoric seas—is not the official Texas beverage.)


   Texas’ official gem is Texas blue topaz. Fossilized—er, petrified—palmwood served as the state stone long before Texans embraced an official fossil proper. I was rooting for the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, the largest flying creature ever. But Texans finally adopted the brachiosaur Pleurocoelus, a giant dinosaur that left some of the most hotly debated footprints either side of the Rio Grande.

TXBlueLonghorn.jpg (11908 bytes) .

   Though few people know Texas has an official sport, most would probably guess that it’s either football or rodeo. The Dallas Cowboys and Texas longhorn are both clues that it’s the latter.

   Sadly, no Texan will ever ride a Quetzalcoatlus, a Pleurocoelus, or the dinosaur-sized crocodile Deinosuchus in a rodeo. But plenty of Texans probably would if they could!

Texas longhorn & Texas bluebonnets,
Courtesy Jean Andrews/
University of Texas Press

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