State symbols: A look at the emblems chosen to represent South Carolina

  • Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014 5:42 p.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, July 28, 2014 5:43 p.m.
Staff photo by Haley Hughes
Amethysts are the state gem.
Staff photo by Haley Hughes Amethysts are the state gem.

The state of South Carolina is represented by a variety of symbols, emblems and icons – the most recent being the Columbian mammoth, which the legislature approved as the state fossil in May.

Other state symbols include the Carolina wren as the state bird, boiled peanuts as the state snack food and amethyst as the state gem.

State gem: Amethyst

Amethysts have long been a popular gem in the jewelry industry, not just in South Carolina, said Floyd & Green Jewelers owner Steve Floyd.

“They’re abundant, fairly inexpensive, durable, and they are refractive; they sparkle,” Floyd said.

Amethysts may also be popular because its signature color – purple – is considered the color of royalty, he added. Amethysts, which are quartz, derive their color from irradiation of iron impurities.

However, a poem by Remy Bellau contends amethysts get their color from Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, revelry and debauchery, Floyd said. Bacchus fell in love with Amethyste, a beautiful maiden, who did not return his affection. So, Amethyste enlisted the help of Diana, the goddess of chastity, to escape Bacchus. To protect Amethyste’s virginity, Diana turned the maiden into a white stone. Bacchus, humbled by Amethyste’s sacrifice, poured wine onto the stone, staining it purple, according to Floyd.

The South Carolina State Museum has on display the largest amethyst cluster ever found in the state. The stone, weighing 118 pounds, was discovered in 2008 in a private Antreville mine owned by retired University of Georgia psychology professor Chester Karwoski of Watkinsville.

State dog: Boykin spaniel

Boykins have been the state dog since 1985, and Boykins are known to be versatile and compact gun dogs with a specialty for hunting waterfowl. Bred by South Carolina hunters in the 1900s, Boykins were a perfect fit for the small crafts hunters used while traveling the Lowcountry swamps. The boats were big enough for only a compact retriever and a hunter.

“Their nickname is apropos: ‘the little dog that doesn’t rock the boat,’” according to the Westminster Kennel Club.

Boykin owner and chair of The Boykin Spaniel Society, Bill Rundorff, said he couldn’t think of a better state dog than a Boykin.

“They were bred here, developed here,” he said.

The first Boykin spaniel was said to be a stray, spaniel-type dog that followed a banker home from church one Sunday in Spartanburg, according to The Boykin Spaniel Society. Alexander L. White liked the dog and kept it. When the dog showed some talent for retrieving, White sent to the dog, named Dumpy, to his friend and fellow hunter, Whit Boykin. Whit trained Dumpy to be an adept turkey dog and waterfowl retriever. The rest, they say, is history.

“They are companionable gun dogs. They make great house dogs, and they’re loyal,” Rundorff said.

State butterfly: Eastern tiger swallowtail

Ron Brenneman, owner of Birds & Butterflies on Laurens Street, said the Eastern tiger swallowtail is probably one of the most commonly-spotted large butterflies in Aiken County.

The butterfly gets its name from the tiger-like black stripes on its wings. The wings can be yellow or dark in color.

“The female’s hind wings are more blue. That’s how you can tell them (the males and females) apart,” Brenneman said. “It’s a very showy butterfly.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s state butterfly, it is the state butterfly of Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and North Carolina and is the state insect of Virginia.

State bird: Carolina wren

The Carolina wren is a small bird with cinnamon-colored plumage, a white eyebrow stripe and an upward-cocked tail.

“It loves to be around people,” Brenneman said. “It loves to nest under people’s porches, inside garages. It is very vocal for the size of the bird.”

Its call often sounds like “teakettle teakettle teakettle,” according to The Cornell Lab of Orinthology. The birds love to move low through brush piles and areas overrun with vines and bushes.

Carolina wrens likely mate for life and do not migrate so they’re in South Carolina year-round. Sunflower and safflower seeds are favorites of Carolina wrens, as is suet.

State flower: Yellow jessamine

Clemson Extension agent Suzanne Holmes said yellow jessamine is a native vine with “wonderful yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers” that bloom in early March.

The vine likes to climb up pine trees and can reach heights of up to 20 feet. The flowers can be mildly scented and are deer resistant and the vine’s sap can be toxic to humans, causing skin irritation. It can be especially toxic to children who might mistake the plant for honeysuckle.

Many people often mispronounce the vine’s name as jasmine, Holmes said. Jessamine is colloquially pronounced as “jezz-ah-men.”

South Carolina’s state wildflower is goldenrod, and the state tree is the Palmetto.

State snack: Boiled peanuts

People either love them or hate them, said Aiken resident J.C. Crider who has been cooking boiled peanuts since he was a teenager.

“In my family, it’s a summer thing: you make boiled peanuts,” he said. “When you boil it, you change the texture and flavor from a roasted peanut. I’ve seen a lot of people flavor them different ways, like with ham hock.”

But Crider doesn’t use any flavoring or seasoning. His recipe is simple: peanuts, salt and water cooked in a pressure cooker for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Using a pressure cooker shaves a good four-and-a-half hours off the typical cook time for boiled peanuts when prepared in a traditional pot.

Boiled peanuts became the state snack in 2006. The act making it so read, “The General Assembly finds that boiled peanuts are a delicious and popular snack food that are found both in stores and roadside stands across the state, and this unique snack food is defined as peanuts that are immersed in boiling water for at least one hour while still in the shell. The General Assembly further finds that this truly Southern delicacy is worthy of designation as the official state snack food.”

State popular music: Beach music

“Beach music is hard to define because it is ever evolving,” said Tony Baughman, deejay for WKSX 92.7FM. “The heart of beach music is R&B – rhythm and blues. Beach music grew in popularity in the ’50s and ’60s when teenagers would go to the beach and dance (shag) to the music at the clubs there. ... There were black artists on the jukebox they had never heard before.”

Classic beach music artists include Clyde McPhatter, Fats Domino, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

Now, “beach music is all over the charts,” Baughman said, in songs such as “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and “Love Never Felt So Good” by Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

“It (beach music) is whatever is capturing the rhythm of shag dancers,” he added. “Beach music is escapism; it’s going to the beach, having a good time, having a cool beverage. It’s the sound track for our state dance.”

Shag is the state dance.

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