Louisiana's climate (subtropical in the south and temperate in the north) and rich alluvial soil make the state one of the nation's leading producers of sweet potatoes, rice, and sugarcane. Other major commodities are soybeans, cotton, and dairy products, and strawberries, corn, hay, pecans, and truck vegetables are produced in quantity. Fishing is a major industry; shrimp, menhaden, and oysters are principal catches. Louisiana is a leading fur-trapping state; its marshes (7,409 sq mi/19,189 sq km of the state's area is underwater) supply most of the country's muskrat furs. Pelts are also obtained from mink, nutria, coypus, opossums, otter, and raccoon.
The state has great mineral wealth. It leads the nation in the production of salt and sulfur, and it ranks high in the production of crude petroleum (of which many deposits are offshore), natural gas, and natural-gas liquids. Timber is plentiful; forests cover almost 50% of the land area. The state rapidly industrialized in the 1960s and 70s and has giant oil refineries, petrochemical plants, foundries, and lumber and paper mills. Other industries produce foods, transportation equipment, and electronic equipment. Four of the ten busiest U.S. ports—New Orleans, South Louisiana, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemines—line the lower Mississippi River.
Tourism is increasingly important to the state economy; New Orleans is the major attraction with its history, nightlife, and Old World charm. The largest city in Louisiana, it is especially noted for its picturesque French quarter, which has many celebrated restaurants, and for the Mardi Gras—perhaps the most famous festival in the United States—held annually since 1838.
Baton Rouge is the capital and the second largest city. Other major cities are Shreveport, Lake Charles, Kenner, and Lafayette. Louisiana is rich in tradition and legend. Four different groups have contributed to its unique heritage: the Creoles, descendants of the original Spanish and French colonists; the Cajuns, whose French ancestors were expelled from Acadia (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) by the British in 1755; the American cotton planters; and the African Americans who worked to create much of Louisiana's wealth and whose music, especially, has swept the world. Along the rivers and bayous overhung with Spanish moss, some old mansions remain, recalling the elegance and splendor of antebellum days. Plantation tours from Baton Rouge and Natchitoches are popular, while the Cajun country west of New Orleans also attracts visitors—most particularly to the area around St. Martinville and Lafayette.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.