Alaska Symbols
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Symbols of Alaska

Below are some of the official symbols of Alaska, including the state flower and bird. Click on any link  for more information.

Bird: Willow ptarmigan (1955) These pheasant-like birds resemble small grouse, weighing from 10.5 ounces to 24 ounces, but have feathered toes, wings that are white all year and pure white body plumage in winter (they are light brown in summer). Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska's State Bird!

In the winter, willow ptarmigan eat willow buds, willow twigs, and a little birch. When the snow melts, their fare includes insects, overwintered berries, new leaves and flowers. The birds eat vegetable matter in summer, as well as caterpillars and beetles. As fall comes, the diet turns to berries, seeds and buds. The birds are hunted with both shotguns and snares, but only when their feathers are white.

 (© Alaska Division of Tourism)

The willow ptarmigan is actually one of three species of ptarmigan living in the state. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, they are found in high, treeless country across the state and in other northern lands such as Canada, Scandinavia, Finland and Russia. The other Alaska ptarmigan varieties are rock ptarmigan, which also lives around the world's northern regions, and the white-tailed ptarmigan, which lives only in rugged uplands from the Alaska Range and Yukon Territory sound into northern New Mexico.

Fish: King salmon (1962)

Forget-me-not, Alaska's State Flower!Flower: Forget-me-not (1949). The state flower is the alpine forget-me-not, Myosotis alpestris, which grows wild throughout Alaska. There are actually several varieties, and only the alpine one is the official state flower. The hybridized version, Myosotis sylvatica comes in pink and white also. Seeds germinate easily, but will not bloom until the second year, when they will reseed themselves liberally before dying.

The alpine forget-me-not is a perennial that grows 5 to 12 inches high in alpine meadows. The flowers have five connected salviform petals, colored sky blue, that are a quarter to a third of an inch wide. They have a white inner ring and a yellow center. Look for them in midsummer, from late June to late July. 

In Denali National Park one might also see the mountain forget-me-not (Eritrichium aretiodes) and the splendid forget-me-not (Eritrichium splendens). Myosotis palustris, or "brook forget-me-not" grows wild in Southeastern Alaska, but is grown in Southcentral also. Watch out or it becomes a weed! 

Woolly Mammoth - Alaska FossilFossil: Woolly mammoth (1986)  These extinct creatures lived in areas including Alaska's northern reaches and the Tanana River Valley near Big Delta in the Interior. Archaeologists have found indications that prehistoric people worked with fossil tusks. Gold miners sometimes wash mammoth tusks and teeth out of streambeds and hillsides. There are displays on Alaskan mammoths at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks - and a tooth to touch!

Gem: Jade (1968) Alaska has large deposits of the gem - even an entire mountain of jade on the Seward Peninsula! Most Alaska jade is found in the Jade Mountains near Kobuk and Shungnak, in northwest Alaska 150 or so miles east of Kotzebue.

Jade comes in shades of green, brown, black, yellow, white and red, but only a quarter of the mined jade is considered gem quality and used in jewelry. Jade is also used in Alaska for bookends, clock faces, tabletops and plaques.

Insect: Four-spot skimmer dragonfly (1995) The dragonfly lives in many parts of North America around lakes, ponds, bogs and slow-moving water. It eats mosquitos, midges and black flies. Alaska gained its state insect August 24, 1995, when 11,496 Alaska school children voted from among four insects. Here is how the voting went:

bulletFour-spot skimmer, 3,941
bulletUnmarked slender mosquito, 3,073
bulletMourning cloak butterfly, 2,990
bulletBumblebee, 1,492

The voting actually began in 1992 and was tabulated by Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School in Aniak, a Kuskokwim River town in Western Alaska. The dragonfly had been nominated by the Aniak and the Auke Bay schools in Juneau. The bill that accomplished it was HB 239, introduced by Senator Georgianna Lincoln on behalf of elementary students in her district.

We are of the opinion that the children appreciated dragonflies because they prey on Alaska’s “unofficial state bird,” the mosquito! However, According to Ned Rozell,  a science writer at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks :

After the votes were tallied from every public school in the state, the dragonfly downed the mosquito 3,914 to 3,035. In a sponsor statement for House Bill 239, which Gov. Knowles signed into law in May, Rep. Irene Nicholia stated a reason the dragonfly was more worthy to represent the state than the mosquito: "The dragonfly's ability to hover and fly forward and backward reminds us of the skillful maneuvering of the bush pilots in Alaska.

Maybe someday we'll have an aircraft as efficient as the Alaska state insect. If only 747's would eat mosquitoes.

Moose, Alaska's official Land Mammal.Land mammal: Moose (1998) The moose became the official Alaska land mammal May 1, 1998, under Governor Tony Knowles . "Moose can be found from the Unuk River in Southeast to the Arctic Slope, but are most abundant in second-growth birch forests, on timberline plateaus and along major rivers of Southcentral and Interior. They are not found on islands in Prince William Sound or the Bering *Sea, on most major islands in Southeast, on Kodiak, or the Aleutians groups."

(© Alaska Division of Tourism)

A bull moose can weigh as much as 1,200 to 1,600 pounds, and a cow may reach 800 to 1,300 pounds. They may live to 16 years, although the males grow their biggest antlers at 10 to 12 years. Alaska's moose (Alces alces gigas) is the largest member of the deer family.

During the fall and winter, moose eat willow, birch and aspen twigs. In the spring, moose the enjoy more variety, particularly sedges, equisetum (horsetail), pond weeds and grasses. During the summer, moose feed on vegetation in shallow ponds, and tree leaves (birch, willow and aspen). Urban residents often find moose in their yards. In the winter, moose wander into neighborhoods and expand their diets with such ornamentals as mountain ash trees.

Moose live from the Stikine River in the Panhandle to the Colville River on the Arctic Slope. They are most abundant in recently burned areas that contain willow and birch shrubs, on timberline plateaus and along the large rivers of Southcentral and Interior Alaska.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Marine mammal: Bowhead whale (1983) Bowheads, distinguished by the elevated "crown" of their thick-boned skulls, spend the short arctic summer in the Beaufort Sea above Alaska and Canada. They migrate each spring and fall past Barrow and through the Bering Strait, where Alaska and Russia nearly meet. The bowheads' winter home is in the Bering Sea.

Instead of teeth, bowheads use more than 600 bristly baleen plates to filter food out of the water. Nevertheless, they grow to about 60 feet and 120,000 pounds. Bowheads are thought by some researchers to be the animals with the longest lifespans - as long as over 200 years.

Bowheads have long provided food for Alaska Natives. Bowheads produce large quantities of oil, baleen, meat and muktuk (skin with 1.5 feet of blubber); are slow and nonaggressive; and float when killed. Bowheads were popular for centuries with commercial whalers. Commercial whaling greatly reduced the Bering Sea stock in the 1800s and early 1900s. A survey in 1992 estimated that there were 6,400 to 9,200 bowheads in the Bering Sea stock. Only subsistence whaling is now allowed. Alaska Eskimo whalers use handheld weapons and skin boats propelled by paddles to pursue bowheads during the spring hunt and motor-driven boats during the fall. The hunt is managed by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, representing 10 whaling villages in northwestern Alaska. Native whalers take about 40 bowheads a year.

Mineral: Gold (1968)

Alaska's largest gold nugget weighs 294.10 troy ounces, the equivalent of about 20 pounds. It was unearthed in 1998 by Barry Clay's D-6 bulldozer blade at his mine near Ruby. Nuggets often have high percentages of impurities, but this one was only 3 percent quartz. The previous state record was held by a nugget weighing 155 troy ounces, found in 1903 along Anvil Creek near Nome. Gold has been Alaska's state mineral since 1968.

Clay, of Palmer, named the chunk the "Alaska Centennial Nugget" because it was found in the 100th anniversary of one of Alaska's gold rushes. At gold's late-May 2002 market value of $324 per troy ounce, the nugget would be worth about $95,000. In 2003 gold values shot up. Its also has much value as a state treasure. The nugget is kept in a vault at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and has been taken on tour in the Lower 49.

Sources: Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

Motto: "North to the Future" (1967) Our motto was chosen in 1967 during the Alaska Purchase Centennial and was created by Juneau newsman Richard Peter. The motto is meant to represent Alaska as a land of promise. Sidebar: "North to Alaska" was a 1960 Western-comedy movie featuring John Wayne as a turn-of-the-century prospector sent from White Mountain, "just a little southeast of Nome," to fetch his partner's sweetheart from Seattle. When he finds the sweetheart already married, he invites a beautiful dancer to be her replacement -- and he falls in love with her himself. The movie's ballad, also called "North to Alaska," became a hit in 1960 for Johnny Horton.

Name: "Alaska" came from an Aleut word for "great land," though some believe the Aleut word meant  "mainland," referred to it by those residing on the Alaska Peninsula. Scientist and surveyor William Healey Dall wrote in 1870: "This name, now applied to the whole of our new territory, is a corruption, very far removed from the original word . . . called by the natives Al-ak-shak or Al-ay-ek-sa. From Alayeksa the name became Alaksa, Alashka, Aliaska, and finally Alaska. We have, then Alaska for the territory, Aliaska for the peninsula."

Alaska today refers to the entire state as well as the Peninsula. "Alyeska" is still around, though, as the name of a ski resort in Girdwood, as well as the name of the Anchorage consortium overseeing the trans-Alaska pipeline company.

Other names for Alaska:

bulletTerritory of Baranov, for Alexander Baranov, the early Russian leader on this continent.
bulletRussian America, before it was purchased by the United States in 1867.
bulletSeward's Folly, for Secretary of State William Seward, who proposed the often-ridiculed purchase and the official acceptance of the name Alaska.

Sources: Alaska Place Names Dictionary, Alaska Volcano Observatory

Nickname: "The Last Frontier"

Seal: The state seal includes images of the aurora, icebergs, mining, farming, fisheries, fur seals and a railroad. The state seal was originally designed and adopted in 1910 while Alaska was still territory, not a state. The rays above the mountains represent the Northern Lights. The smelter symbolizes mining. The train stands for Alaska’s railroads, and ships denote transportation by sea. The trees symbolize Alaska’s wealth of forests, and the farmer, his horse, and the three shocks of wheat represent Alaskan agriculture. The fish and the seals signify the importance of fishing and wildlife to Alaska’s economy.

Song: "Alaska's Flag" became the state song in 1955.

Sport: Dog mushing (1972) Click the link for lots of information.

Tree: Sitka spruce (1972) The Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is Alaska's state tree. It grows best along the Inside Passage and in Southcentral Alaska. They usually grow up to 160 feet high with a 5-foot diameter, making them the tallest living things in Alaska. The record is held by a tree  measuring 216 feet high with a diameter of 16.7 feet. Sitka spruce is known for it strength to weight, workability and pulping characteristics, according to the Alaska Division of Community and Business Development.

The lumber -- a creamy white to light yellow, with pinkish-yellow to brown heartwood-- is used for sounding boards for high-quality pianos, guitar faces, masts and spars for boats, ladders, oars, planking, components for experimental light aircraft, and turbine blades.

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