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Nickname: The Pelican State
Statehood: 1812; 18th state
Population (as of July 2016): 4,681,666
Capital: Baton Rouge
Biggest City: New Orleans
State bird: brown pelican
State flower: magnolia
People first arrived in the area now called Louisiana around 12,000 years ago. During its history Native American tribes lived on the land including the Atakapa, Choctaw, Chitimacha, Natchez, and Tunica lived on the land.
In 1541 explorer Hernando de Soto claimed the territory for Spain. Then in 1682 France took possesion of the region. Ownership of the land would go back and forth between these nations until the United States bought the area that would become Louisiana from France in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1812 Louisiana became the 18th state.
The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718, and just a few years later many African people were brought to the city as slaves. The mix of African, French, and Spanish influences gave Louisiana, and particularly the city of New Orleans, a unique culture.
In 1861, during the Civil War, Louisiana left the Union. It rejoined the United States in 1868. Today the Chitimacha, Coushatta, Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, and Tunica-Biloxi tribes still live in this state.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Louisiana was named after King Louis XIV when the land was claimed for France in 1862.
Louisiana is called the Pelican State because of its state bird.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Louisiana is bordered by Arkansas in the north, Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico in the east, the Gulf of Mexico in the south, and Texas in the west. The state can be divided into three geographic regions.
The East Gulf Coastal Plain is the low land east of the Mississippi River. It’s marshy near the river and becomes hilly in the north.
The Mississippi Alluvial Plain runs west of the Mississippi River from Arkansas in the north down to the Gulf of Mexico. Ridges topped by fields called frontlands run along the river, and fields called backlands (with very fertile silt and clay) slope away. Wetlands cover the southern coastline.
Farthest west is the West Gulf Coastal Plain, which runs from Arkansas to the southernmost part of the state. Louisiana’s highest point, Driskill Mountain, is in the northern part of this region. Going south, the land slopes down to become prairie, then marshland, and eventually the sandy islands that border the coastline called barrier beaches.
Coyotes, American beavers, muskrats, and swamp rabbits are some of Louisiana’s mammals. The state’s best-known reptile might be the American alligator. But the area is also home to alligator snapping turtles, constrictors called Louisiana pine snakes, and venomous harlequin coral snakes. Bright pink roseate spoonbills, yellow-crowned night-herons, Louisiana waterthrushes, and purple gallinules are among Louisiana’s many birds. Southern toads, crawfish frogs, and Louisiana slimy salamanders are a few of the state’s amphibians.
Pecan, Louisiana hickory, magnolia, live oak and bald cypress (the state tree) are among Louisiana’s most common trees. Plants and flowers that grow in Louisiana include little brown jug, American hogpeanut, and sensitive partridge pea.
Louisiana’s top natural resources include fertile soil, natural gas, and oil. Louisiana is also the biggest U.S. producer of salt.
- Famous folks from the Pelican State include civil rights activist Madam C.J. Walker, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and many jazz and blues performers such as Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton.
- Louisiana is known for its unique Creole (a mix of Spanish, French, African, and other) cuisine, including Jambalaya—a mixture of spicy rice, meat, and seafood.
- Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve includes a War of 1812 battlefield with reenactments and a national cemetery; a wetland preserve (where Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, can be spotted); and several cultural centers that tell the history of Louisiana’s people, art and music.
- Reptiles must be kept at least 200 yards away from the Mardi Gras parade route.
Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh
Photo credits: Pancaketom, Dreamstime (quarter); FrankvandenBergh, iStockphoto (flag); Marilyn Gould, Dreamstime (pelican); elektaus83, Dreamstime (magnolia); Jennifer Thompson, Dreamstime (cyprus)
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