Pine Tree Poet is all about natural curiosity and adventure, so I hope you enjoy these fun facts about my beautiful home state of North Carolina.
North Carolina has it all. Have you ever visited? I’ve lived here for 11 years and learn something new–or see something amazing I haven’t seen before–a few times every year. North Carolina is home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, sunny beaches on the Atlantic ocean, and charming cities like Raleigh, Asheville, and Charlotte.
After visiting the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for the third time, I realized there are tons of fun facts about North Carolina that are, well, actually pretty fun and unique. The museum is a gateway to fascination of the natural landscapes, creatures, and treasures of this great state. Everyone who visits Raleigh (especially with kids) should visit this museum.
Without further ado, here are 21 fun facts about North Carolina…
1. Emeralds Occur Naturally in North Carolina
North Carolina’s natural treasures aren’t limited to mountains and beaches. Deep within the earth in the western portion of the state are an abundance of Emeralds, the only significant deposits in North America. They’re found in quartz veins, especially in Alexander, Mitchell, and Cleveland counties.
Emerald Hollow Mine, located in Hiddenite, offers visitors a unique opportunity to prospect (that means pickaxes and shovels) for their very own emeralds, an adventurous and rewarding time in the dirt. Emerald Hollow Mine is the only emerald mine in the world open to public prospecting.
For rockhounds, gem collectors, or anyone who likes getting in the dirt and finding cool stuff, the allure of North Carolina’s emeralds is hard to resist. Such treasures showcase the state’s geological wonders and reminds us that beauty is sometimes deep beneath our feet.
2. Speaking of Geology, Rare Hiddenite Gems are in N.C.
Hiddenite is apparently the fourth rarest gem in the world. Until recently, it was only found in Hiddenite, North Carolina. It has a light green hue and is confused for emeralds by novice prospectors. Hiddenite was named for William Earl Hidden, a mineralogist sent to North Carolina to look for precious metals. Emerald Hollow Mine is also a great place to look for Hiddenite.
3. The First Gold Rush in America Was in North Carolina
Okay, this should be the last mining/rock/gem/metal fun fact about North Carolina. But seriously, did you know North Carolina saw a huge gold rush in the early 1800s? Most people think of California when they hear gold rush, but North Carolina was the first state that saw the craze of new gold.
The public can tour the Reed Gold Mine, close to where 12 year old Conrad Reed found a 17 pound gold nugget which his father used as a doorstop for 3 years. The Reed Gold Mine is now a state-run historic site where you can learn all about the history of gold mining in North Carolina, and pan for gold!
4. There are more salamander species in North Carolina than any other place in the world
For amphibian fans (like myself), I thought it was cool that North Carolina had so many species of salamanders. It makes sense: from the Blue Ridge Mountains alllll the way down to the coast, there are tons of places for salamanders to hang out. I’ve even seen them around wetlands in Raleigh.
Salamanders are pretty private creatures, so make sure you snap a picture if you see one! Also, don’t touch them with your bare skin. Many amphibians have delicate skin that can be damaged even by the gentlest human hands.
To the curious eye
of the wet-soled passerby
the fiery salamander
makes no urgent reply
but speaking volumes
in his little candor
to every whispering ask
“What say you, little salamander?”
5. Raleigh has one of only five Acrocanthosaurus fossils ever found…
…and the most complete ever found! Acrocanthosaurus (“high-spined lizard”) lived about 50 million years before T. Rex, though you probably wouldn’t know the difference if the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences didn’t have such an amazing, informative exhibit.
They have the skeleton in a huge atrium, and it really is a gem and point of pride for North Carolinians. The specimen was discovered in the ’80s in Oklahoma and the museum purchased it after losing out on an infamous T. Rex fossil bid. This website has some awesome info about this amazing Acrocanthosaurus.
6. Pinkshell Azaleas are only native to western North Carolina
7. North Carolina is home to three different rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes might seem more home in the southwest or desert environments, but North Carolina has three species of rattlesnakes: the Eastern Diamondback, Timber, and Pigmy Rattlesnakes. All three are protected species, and it’s pretty rare to see them. I was lucky enough to see a HUGE Timber Rattlesnake (pictured below) while backpacking in Virginia (on my birthday, too), and it was quite a sight.
Eastern Diamondbacks are the largest species of rattlesnake in the world, while the Pigmy only grow to 15-21 inches.
right along their way
they’ve errands to run
and no human fright
is worth their delay
8. The second largest globe in the world is in North Carolina
The three story globe outside the Nature Research Center (connected to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences) is the second largest globe in the world. Its diameter is 70 feet, smaller than the Unisphere in New York. Unlike the Unisphere, however, you can go inside North Carolina’s huge globe for multimedia performances and lectures.
9. North Carolina was once home to 20 feet tall ground sloths
About 1.5 million years ago, what is now North Carolina was inhabited by giant ground sloths! Remains of one such creature were found near the coast in Wilmington, North Carolina. You can see replicas at different museums, including Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
10. The tallest lighthouse in the United States is in North Carolina
Protecting a stretch of the Outer Banks known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is 198 feet tall (193 without the lightning rod).
Even Blackbeard ran his Queen Anne’s Revenge aground in 1718, 85 years before the first formal lighthouse was completed. There’s a cool timeline of construction and important dates right here on NPS.gov, including when the lighthouse was moved in 1999!
Photo by Cam Bradford. 4/26/19.
11. North Carolina is called the Tar Heel State
North Carolina is called the Tar Heel State because tar, pitch, and turpentine from the state’s pine trees were used in ship building. British soldiers were slowed down (so they say) when they stepped in North Carolina tar during the revolutionary war.
12. North Carolina is home to Roanoke, the Lost Colony
The first colony of English settlers to the New World disappeared in the late 1500s, and the mystery is unsolved to this day. The only clue was a word carved into a wooden post–“Croatoan.”
13. North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes
North Carolina produces more sweet potatoes than any other state. I love sweet potatoes. That’s mostly why I live here.
North Carolina is home to many natural and manmade treasures. I’ll keep updating this list with new fun facts I learn from my home in Raleigh, and as I explore my home state. Thanks for reading!