Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Missing the mark in state symbols (part 1): When a state flower isn't a flower

Countries, states, and provinces around the world often select symbolic things to represent their place and these are often considered typical for that region.  The US has the bald eagle as their symbolic country bird, and New Jersey (in US) has the oak as their state tree.  Each province ('landskap') in Sweden has a province plant, for example the white waterlily is the 'landskapsblomma' (province flower) of the Södermanland.  The same Swedish province also has a selected a moss (hart's-tongue thyme-moss), an animal (osprey), a fish (bream), a mushroom (black trumpet mushroom), an insect (the striped shield bug), and a rock ( special type of gneiss).

Many states in the United States have also selected foods, vegetables, animals, arts, fossils, insects, festivals, holidays as their special state symbols (see list here).  Sometimes this misses the mark, when selected species or objects do not really fit into their category based on biological or other definitions.  In this blogpost series I will present a few of these cases.

Botanical illustration of white pine from Bauer's book A Description of the Genus Pinus
made by A. B. Lambert. (PD-public domain, Wikimedia, NYBG.)
State Flower of Maine:
Unfortunately for Maine, the selected state flower in 1895, the white pine (Pinus strobus), do not have flowers.  It doesn't belong to the flowering plants, instead it is a conifer.  Conifers don't have carpels and they don't produce fruits, and they don't have sepals, petals, ovaries, or stamens.  Instead the ovules are places on bracts in short whorls (this is the female strobilus, which will become a pine cone), and the male parts that shed immense amounts of pollen in the spring, are on separate male strobili that look like little dusters (sometimes called tassels).  Other types of conifers are cedars, redwoods, and ginkgos. Luckily for Maine, the white pine is also the state tree since 1945, and that is botanically correct.

Conclusion: The state flower of Maine isn't a flower.

The eastern white pine is still a gorgeous tree.

Iced pine needles on Pinus strobus, eastern white pine. 
21 Dec 2008. Photo by Lena Struwe (creative commons, on Flickr)