Going to Carolina in My Mind: The Hidden State Symbols Within the North Carolina General Statutes

The North Carolina General Statutes are often ignored in the discussion of North Carolina greatness, but the statutes showcase hidden symbols that give deeper insight into our state’s history.

Photo: North Carolina's State Frog the Pine Barrens Tree Frog, courtesy of Google Images

What is the first thing that comes to mind when people think of North Carolina? For some, it is the greatest rivalry in basketball history. For others, it is sustenance, namely barbecue, Cheerwine, and Krispy Kreme. Still, for others, it is the beautiful scenery that the state has to offer. No matter what the answer is, the first thing that comes to mind when people think of North Carolina is seldom the North Carolina General Statutes.

The North Carolina General Statutes are laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly. While most of the statutes codified within the General Statutes pertain to legal matters such as criminal law, property law, and family law, other statutes outline more sentimental values of the state, including the official song, toast, flag, motto, and colors.

In particular, Chapter 145 of the North Carolina General Statutes covers the state symbols officially adopted by our state. Throughout North Carolina history, the General Assembly has adopted various symbols representing the rich cultural and social history of our state. While some of these symbols are sentimental and represent North Carolina values, others provide an amusing snapshot of North Carolina history.

“In 1995, the General Assembly adopted the Sweet Potato as the official vegetable of North Carolina.”

The North Carolina General Assembly has adopted various horticultural state symbols. In 1995, the General Assembly adopted the Sweet Potato as the official vegetable of North Carolina. According to the Agricultural Resource Marketing Center, North Carolina produces approximately sixty-percent of all sweet potatoes grown in the United States, making it the largest sweet potato production state. The sweet potato established itself as the official state vegetable after fourth-grade students in Wilson, North Carolina, petitioned the General Assembly to adopt the legislation.

Similarly, in 2005, the General Assembly adopted the Carolina Lily as the official wildflower of North Carolina. The ratified bill gives insight into the General Assembly’s reasoning for adopting the wildflower as an official state symbol. First, the General Assembly notes that an abundance of wildflowers can be found in North Carolina “from the mountains to the coast.” The bill explains further that the Carolina Lily is a rare flower found in the “upland pine-oak woods and pocosins” in our state. Most obviously, the bill acknowledges that the Carolina Lily bears the name of our state. The General Assembly ultimately chose to adopt the Carolina Lily as the state’s official wildflower because North Carolina did not previously have an official wildflower, and because the Carolina Lily is significant to our state.

All in all, the sweet potato and Carolina Lily were adopted as official state symbols because they can be found in abundance throughout the state, making them vital to North Carolina history.

“In 2005, the General Assembly passed a bill titled “’An Act Adopting Official State Dances.’”

The North Carolina General Assembly has also adopted multiple entertainment-related state symbols. Specifically, in 2005, the General Assembly passed a bill titled “An Act Adopting Official State Dances.”

In this bill, the General Assembly adopted clogging as the official folk dance of North Carolina. The ratified bill explains that clogging was adopted as the state’s official folk dance because the dance developed during the Colonial period in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of the United States. Furthermore, because numerous clogging events and competitions are held across North Carolina each year, the General Assembly found that it was only fitting to adopt clogging as the state’s official folk dance. In this same bill, shagging was adopted as the official popular dance of North Carolina. The General Assembly adopted shag as the popular dance of the state because it is a form of swing dancing that originated at Carolina Beach in the 1940s. Because shag originated in North Carolina and is a widely recognized dance across the United States, the General Assembly chose the dance to represent the official popular dance of North Carolina.

On the whole, clogging and shagging are fitting state symbols because both dances are rooted in North Carolina history and culture, making them significant symbols of our state.

“In 2013, the General Assembly passed a bill entitled ‘An Act to Adopt an Official State Fossil, Frog, Salamander, Marsupial, Folk Art, and Folk Medium.’”

Finally, the North Carolina General Assembly has adopted multiple animal-related state symbols. In 2013, the General Assembly passed a bill entitled “An Act to Adopt an Official State Fossil, Frog, Salamander, Marsupial, Folk Art, and Folk Medium.” As the name of the bill states, the General Assembly adopted multiple official state symbols, mostly pertaining to animals and wildlife. The General Assembly passed the bill after receiving several suggestions from the state’s schools children who have learned about the history, science, social studies, or geography of North Carolina.

First, the General Assembly adopted the fossilized teeth of the megalodon shark as the official state fossil. This fossil was chosen as the official state symbol because the megalodon shark’s fossilized teeth have been found in North Carolina. The megalodon shark is a now-extinct species that lived over 1.5 million years ago, reaching over forty feet in length and weighing up to one-hundred tons. Their serrated, heart-shaped teeth grew to be over seven inches in length. Because these impressive creatures inhabited North Carolina, the fossil was adopted as an official state symbol.

Next, the General Assembly adopted the pine barrens tree frog as the official state frog. The barren tree frog can be found in the Sandhills and Coastal Plain regions of the state. According to the General Assembly, the pine barrens tree frog has been considered one of the most “striking and beautiful” frogs in the Southeastern United States, and its name reflects one of North Carolina’s signature trees that has played a large role in the state’s economic, cultural, and natural history.

Similarly, the marbled salamander was adopted as the official state salamander. The marbled salamander is unique because it is a “charismatic, striking, chunky-bodied, fossorial amphibian, of which no two are exactly alike in color pattern.” This salamander was chosen because North Carolina leads the nation in salamander diversity, and because it is found throughout the state.

Finally, the General Assembly adopted the Virginia opossum at the official state marsupial. The Virginia opossum is about the size of a large house cat and has a triangular head, a pointed nose, dark eyes, and short black ears. The Virginia opossum is nocturnal and prefers wet habitats, including marshes, swamps, and streams. The General Assembly chose the Virginia opossum as the official state symbol because it is native to North Carolina. Additionally, it is one of the oldest mammals – and the only marsupial – found in North America.

In sum, the animals adopted as official state symbols represent many important aspects of North Carolina history and culture, making them appropriate symbols of our state.

“. . . where they can be forever cherished by those going to Carolina in their minds.”

Although the North Carolina General Statutes are not nearly as attention-grabbing as a Duke-UNC basketball game or a dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme, they provide thoughtful insight into our state symbols and the history behind them. Several of the state’s most unique historical relics are memorialized in the North Carolina General Statutes, where they can be forever cherished by those going to Carolina in their minds.

Carly Amendola
About Carly Amendola (2 Articles)
Carly Amendola is a third-year law student at Campbell University and serves as an Associate Editor and Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. Carly grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Political Science in 2019. At Campbell, Carly is involved with the Moot Court team and the Death Row Visitation Project. Carly has completed externships at the Court of Appeals and Federal Public Defender’s Office during law school. After graduation, Carly will complete a one-year judicial clerkship with Judge Allegra Collins at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Carly has a strong passion for social justice and is ultimately interested in pursuing a career in criminal law.