Throughout the years, the state has adopted many symbols and honors that are representative of Tennessee. Learn more about our state symbols and what they say about our great state by the navigation pane to the right. For a complete list of state symbols and honors, check out the Tennessee Blue Book by clicking here.
Flags | Seal | Trees | Flowers | Insects | Fish | Birds | Raccoon | Amphibian | Reptile | Paintings | Foods | Tartan | Gem | Rock | Mineral | Fossil | Artifact
The state flag was designed by LeRoy Reeves of the Third Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, who made the following explanation of his design:
"The three stars are of pure white, representing the three grand divisions of the state. They are bound together by the endless circle of the blue field, the symbol being three bound together in
one—an indissoluble trinity. The large field is crimson. The final blue bar relieves the sameness of the crimson field and prevents the flag from showing too much crimson when hanging limp. The white edgings contrast more strongly the other colors."
This flag was adopted as the official flag of the state of Tennessee by an act of the General Assembly passed and approved April 17, 1905. The design of the flag was described by that act, Chapter 498 of the Public Acts of 1905, as follows:
An oblong flag or banner in length one and two thirds times its width, the large or principal field of same to be of color red, but said flag or banner ending at its free or outer end in a perpendicular bar of blue, of uniform width, running from side to side—that is to say from top to bottom of said fl ag or banner—and separated from the red field by a narrow margin or stripe of white of uniform width; the width of the white stripe to be one fifth that of the blue bar, and the total width of the bar and stripe together to be equal to one-eighth of the width of the flag. In the center of the red field shall be a smaller circular field of blue, separated by a circular margin or stripe of white of uniform width and of the same width as the straight margin or stripe first mentioned. The breadth or diameter of the circular blue field, exclusive of the white margin, shall be equal to one-half of the width of the flag.
Inside the circular blue field shall be three five-pointed stars of white distributed at equal intervals around a point, the center of the blue field, and of such size and arrangement that one point of each star shall approach as closely as practicable without actually touching one point of each of the other two around the center point of the field; and the two outer points of each star shall approach as nearly as practicable without actually touching the periphery of the blue field. The arrangement of the three stars shall be such that the centers of no two stars shall be in a line parallel to either the side or end of the flag, but intermediate between same; and the highest star shall be the one nearest the upper confined corner of the flag.
Flag of the General Assembly
The flag of the General Assembly was adopted by the 90th General Assembly in 1978 and by Public Chapter 497 of 1993. The banner was designed by art and design student Sheila Adkins, a student at Knoxville’s Fulton High School. Her design was chosen from among those submitted by numerous students from across the state. The designer chose white for purity, blue to denote respect for Tennessee, red as the traditional color for America; stars to symbolize the state’s three Grand Divisions; wheat for agricultural heritage; and the gavel for the power of the people vested in the state’s legislative body.
Flag of the Governor
No act has been passed by the General Assembly establishing an official flag for the governor, but in 1939, at the request of the Adjutant General, one was designed by the U.S. War Department. The central design on the flag is the crest of the National Guard of Tennessee, which is described in a letter from the Secretary of War, dated May 28, 1923, as:
…on a wreath argent and gules, upon amount vert a hickory tree properly charged with three mullets one and two argent, the description of which is as follows:
The state of Andrew Jackson, or “Old Hickory,” Tennessee was the sixteenth state admitted to the Union—the original thirteen colonies plus three states—and, consequently, the flag bears three white stars. The predominant original white population within the state was of English origin, and the twists of the wreath are accordingly white and red. This design was placed upon a red background, in each corner of which is placed a five-pointed star representing the fact that the governor of the state, by virtue of his office, automatically becomes commander in chief of the National Guard of that state.
The passage quoted above describes a wreath of silver (or white) and red under a green hill, upon which is a hickory tree bearing three five-pointed stars, each one separated from the other two, and all three silver (or white).
Even before Tennessee achieved statehood, efforts were made by local governmental organizations to procure official seals. Reliable historians have assumed that as early as 1772 the Articles of the Agreement of the Watauga Association authorized the use of a seal. The Legislature of the state of Franklin, by an official act, provided “for procuring a Great Seal for this State,” and there is also evidence that a seal was intended for the Territory South of the River Ohio. The secretary of that territory requested the assistance of Thomas Jefferson in March 1792 in “suggesting a proper device” for a seal. There is no direct evidence, however, that a seal was ever made for any of these predecessors of Tennessee.
When Tennessee became a state, the Constitution of 1796 made provision for the preparation of a seal. Each subsequent constitution made similar provisions and always in the same words as the first. This provision is (Constitution of 1796, Article II, Section 15; Constitution of 1835, Article III, Section 15; Constitution of 1870, Article III, Section 15) as follows:
"There shall be a seal of this state, which shall be kept by the governor, and used by him officially, and shall be called “The Great Seal of the State of Tennessee.”
In spite of the provision of the Constitution of 1796, apparently no action was taken until September 25, 1801. On that date, committees made up of members from both the Senate and the House of Representatives were appointed. One of these committees was to “prepare a device and motto” for a seal, while the other was to contract with a suitable person to cut a seal and press for the use of the state.
The committee appointed to prepare a design for the state seal recommended that:
…the said seal shall be a circle, two inches and a quarter in diameter, that the circumference of the circle contain the words THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, that in the lower part of said circumference be inserted Feb. 6th, 1796, the date of the Constitution of this state; that in the inside of the upper part of said circle, be set in numerical letters XVI, the number of the state in chronological order; that under the base of the upper semicircle, there be the word AGRICULTURE; that above said base, there be the figure of a plough, sheaf of wheat and cotton plant; that in the lower part of the lower semicircle, there be the word COMMERCE, and said lower semicircle shall also contain the figure of a boat and boatman.
The other committee reported that it had contracted with William and Matthew Atkinson to make the seal and press.
The seal and press were delivered to Governor Archibald Roane in April 1802 and were used for the first time on April 24, 1802, on a document ordering payment for them. Before this time, both John Sevier and Archibald Roane had used their personal seal on official documents. This seal continued in use under seven governors until 1829, with Governor William Hall being the last governor to use it. Then, during the second series of administrations of Governor William Carroll, a different seal came into use, though there is no record of its authorization. This second seal was only one and three-quarters inches wide and the date “Feb. 6th,” was omitted. The boat, differing greatly in design from the original, was pointed in the opposite direction. The seal was at variance with the original in other respects, as well. It remained in use from 1829 until the administrations of William Brownlow from 1865 to 1869.
A close examination of official documents bearing the Great Seal, particularly those from between 1855 and 1875, indicates that the seal now being used was introduced during the administration of Governor William Brownlow. Only one document, dated 1865, was found containing the seal attributed to the Brownlow administration. Instead, examination of Brownlow documents of 1866 and 1867 revealed the use of two seals, evidently used simultaneously. One seal appears to be the same as that affixed to documents signed by Governors Brownlow, Senter, Porter, and Hawkins.
Evidently, the so-called “Brownlow Seal” was used only in 1865, after which it was replaced by two other seals that were only slightly different from each other. The seal now used was the larger of the two and appears to have been the only one used since the last year of Brownlow’s administration. The current seal was officially adopted in 1987 by the 95th General Assembly, Public Chapter 402.
The tulip poplar was designated the official state tree of Tennessee by Public Chapter 204 of the Acts of the 75th General Assembly in 1947. The tulip poplar was chosen “because it grows from one end of the state to the other” and “was extensively used by the pioneers of the state to construct houses, barns, and other necessary farm buildings.”
State Evergreen Tree
The eastern red cedar was designated the official state evergreen tree by the 107th General Assembly in Public Chapter 567 of the Acts of 2012. The tree is indigenous to the entire state and is a sacred tree of the Cherokee people.
It was one of the first landscape trees used by early pioneers, including Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage. The tree, Juniperus virginiana, was central to one of the earliest forest industries in Tennessee, the cedar pencil industry. It is an integral part of an ecological niche called cedar glades. Interestingly, Cedar Knob was the original name of the land upon which the state Capitol was built in Nashville. Cedar Street was also the name of the street at the foot of the state Capitol when it was constructed. That street is now Charlotte Avenue.
The iris, family Iridaceae, was designated the official state cultivated flower in 1973 by the 88th General Assembly (Public Chapter 16). The iris is a herbaceous perennial of which there are about 170 species, the most common of which is the Blue Flag. While there are several different colors among the iris, the act naming the iris as the state flower did not name a particular color. By common acceptance, the purple iris is considered the state cultivated flower.
In 1919, the General Assembly, by Senate Joint Resolution 13, provided that a state flower be chosen by the schoolchildren of Tennessee. Accordingly, a vote was taken, and the passion flower, Passiflora incarnata, was chosen. In 1933, however, the Legislature adopted Senate Joint Resolution 53 designating the iris as the “State Flower of Tennessee,” but failed to formally rescind the designation of the passion flower as the state flower. To eliminate this confusion, in 1973, the 88th General Assembly, by Public Chapter 16, designated the passion flower the state wildflower and the iris the state cultivated flower. In 2012, the 107th General Assembly added Tennessee Echinacea, Echinacea tennesseensis, as an official state wildflower (Public Chapter 829).
State Wildflower: Passion Flower
The passion flower grows wild in the southern part of the United States and in South America. It is also commonly known as the maypop, the wild apricot, and the ocoee. The last is the Indian name given to the flower, a name that has also been applied to the Ocoee River and valley. The Indians prized the ocoee as the most abundant and beautiful of all their flowers. The passion flower is so named because of the early Christian missionaries to South America who saw in the various parts of the curiously constructed flower symbols of the Crucifixion—the three crosses, the crown of thorns, nails, and cords.
State Wildflower: Tennessee Echinacea (Coneflower)
Tennessee Echinacea, also known as the Tennessee coneflower or Tennessee purple coneflower, is one of the few plants that thrive only in the limestone and cedar glades of Middle Tennessee. It was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the late 1960s. Due to conservancy efforts, land was purchased to protect the flower, and the species recovered. The flower features a daisy-like coneflower with rose-purple petals and a spiny copper-colored center and generally blooms from mid-spring until mid-autumn.
The official state insects were designated by Public Chapter 292 of the Acts of the 89th General
Assembly in 1975. They are the well-known firefly and the lady beetle.
The firefly, or lightning bug beetle, is the popular name of the luminescent insects of the Lampyridae family. In Tennessee, Photinus pyralls is the most familiar species. Their extraordinary light is generated in special organs; this light is most often white, yellow, orange, greenish blue, or reddish. Rather small, fireflies are blackish, brown, yellow, or reddish in color. In certain species, the females remain in the larvae state and are called glowworms. Most fireflies produce short rhythmic flashes that provide a signaling system to bring the sexes together, as well as a protective mechanism to repel predators.
The ladybird beetle, more commonly known as the ladybug, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called “Beetle of Our Lady.” They are around four-tenths of an inch long, brightly colored, and round, with the popular ladybug having four black spots on each wing. Ladybugs are sold to farmers to control insect pests because they are important aphid predators. The life cycle is about four weeks, as the ladybug larvae passes through four growth stages, feeding on insects and insect eggs. In folk medicine, ladybug beetles were used to cure various diseases, including colic and the measles.
State Agricultural Insect: Honeybee
The official state agricultural insect is the honeybee, designated by Public Chapter 725 of the Acts of the 96th General Assembly in 1990. The honeybee, Apis mellifera, is a social, honey-producing insect that plays a fundamental role in the production of all crops. It is also very popular for its production of honey and beeswax. The honeybee plays a vital economic role in Tennessee through its pollination of various crops, trees, and grasses. The honeybee is the only insect that is moved for the express purpose of pollination.
State Butterfly: Zebra Swallowtail
The Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, was designated Tennessee’s official butterfly by Public Chapter 896 of the 99th General Assembly in 1995. This beautiful, winged insect has black and white stripes that run the length of its body and red and blue spots on its lower back. The swallowtail grows from a tiny egg into a caterpillar that eventually molts into its pupal stage and is transformed into this striking butterfly, which can be found throughout most of the United States.
State Sport Fish: Smallmouth Bass
Tennessee’s official sport fish is the smallmouth bass, as designated in 2005 by Public Chapter 277 of the Acts of the 104th General Assembly.
The smallmouth bass replaced the largemouth bass as the official sport fish in 2005, due to its popularity and the fact that the three largest smallmouth bass in the world came from Tennessee.
The smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu, often referred to as “bronzeback,” will fight ounce for ounce harder than any other species of sport fish in Tennessee. The current state record, which is also the world record of 11 pounds, 15 ounces, was caught by D.L. Hayes at Dale Hollow Lake on July 9, 1955. The smallmouth bass may be found in most streams and lakes in the state, with the exception of West Tennessee.
State Commercial Fish: Channel Catfish
The state commercial fish is the channel catfish, Ictalurus lacustris, which was designated in 1988 by Public Chapter 489 as enacted by the 95th General Assembly. The channel catfish, sometimes known as “spotted cat” or “fiddler,” is widely stocked and reared in farm ponds. It may be found in most Tennessee streams and many lakes. The channel catfish is a bottom feeder and current feeder, generally taken by still fishing.
According to the Nashville Banner of April 16, 1933, the mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, was selected on April 11, 1933 as the state bird of Tennessee in an election conducted by the Tennessee Ornithological Society. The choice was confirmed by Senate Joint Resolution 51, adopted by the 68th General Assembly in 1933.
The mockingbird is akin to the brown thrasher and the catbird. It is ashen gray above, with darker, white-edged wings and whitish underside; its length, inclusive of the long tail, is about ten inches. One of the finest singers among North American birds, it possesses a melodious song of its own and is especially noted for its skill in mimicking the songs of other birds.
State Game Bird: Bobwhite Quail
The bobwhite quail, Colinus virginianus, was designated the official state game bird in 1988 by Public Chapter 775 of the Acts of the 95th General Assembly. The bobwhite, also known as the partridge, is considered one of the finest game birds in the world. It is a short-tailed, chunky brown bird, usually eight to ten inches long. The male has a white throat and a white stripe above the eye, while the female has a buffy throat and eye stripe. In spring, the male’s clearly whistled “bob white” is answered by the female’s four-syllable whistle. This game bird lays from ten to twenty pure white eggs, more than almost any other bird.
State Wild Animal: Raccoon
By House Joint Resolution 156, the 87th General Assembly adopted the raccoon as Tennessee’s wild animal in 1971. The raccoon, Procynn lotor, is a furry animal that has a bushy, ringed tail and a band of black hair around its eyes that looks like a mask. Raccoons, often called coons, eat fish and frogs that they catch in rivers and streams. Raccoons living in Tennessee measure from thirty to thirty-eight inches long, including their tails. They weigh from twelve to twenty-five pounds. Most males are larger than females. Raccoons walk like bears, with all four feet on the ground, and are good swimmers.
State Amphibian: Tennessee Cave Salamander
The Tennessee Cave Salamander, Gyrinophilus palleucus, was named the official state amphibian by Public Chapter 367 of the 99th General Assembly in 1995. This large, cave-dwelling salamander has three red external gills, a broad, flat head with small eyes, and a tail fin. It is most often found in limestone caves that contain streams in central and southeast Tennessee.
State Reptile: Eastern Box Turtle
The Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, was designated the official state reptile by Public Chapter 367 of the 99th General Assembly in 1995. This peaceful creature usually reaches a length of fewer than six inches and has a shell of black or brown with spots of yellow, orange, and red. This reptile usually lives between thirty to sixty years and never ventures far from its place of birth.
The paintings Tennessee Treasures and Tennessee Treasures Too, by Tennessee artist Michael Sloan, were designated as official paintings of Tennessee by Senate Joint Resolution 57 of the 100th General Assembly in 1997 and by Senate Joint Resolution 82 of the 105th General Assembly in 2007, respectively.
Tennessee Treasures features Tennessee’s ten most recognizable symbols—raccoon, mockingbird, iris, passion flower, tulip poplar, Tennessee River pearl, ladybug, zebra swallowtail, largemouth bass, and limestone—as well as images of the state flag, the actual geographic layout of the state, a gold-embossed seal of the state, and the signature of Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier.
Tennessee Treasures Too
Tennessee Treasures Too, a follow-up work, also contains imagery of the tulip poplar, passion flower, and iris; however, in addition, it depicts the yellowwood tree (the Tennessee Bicentennial Tree), honeybee, firefly, bobwhite quail, agate, box turtle, and channel catfish.
State Fruit: Tomato
The tomato, scientifically known as Lycopersicon lycopersicum, was designated Tennessee’s official state fruit in 2003 by the 103rd General Assembly (Public Chapter 154). While commonly considered, and commonly functioning as, a vegetable, the tomato is, botanically speaking, a fruit. In the culinary world, fruits are sweet and usually served as a dessert or snack, while vegetables are less sweet and often served with a main dish. However, the scientific distinction between fruit and vegetable is based on the part of the plant where the food happens to be. A fruit develops from the fertilized ovary of a flower and contains seeds, while a vegetable is any edible part of the plant other than the fruit (i.e. leaf, root, bulb, stem, and flower).
State Beverage: Milk
Milk was designated the official state beverage of Tennessee by Public Chapter 31 of the Acts of the 106th General Assembly in 2009. The act stated that milk is an essential component to building strong muscles and bones in children, as well as mending injured muscles and bones in adults. Other benefits cited include milk’s role in building strong and healthy teeth, hair, skin, and nails. Tennessee’s dairy industry produced nearly 100 million pounds of milk in 2007, with cash receipts for milk and milk products totaling nearly $202 million.
Other State Symbols
Scottish ancestry is widely celebrated throughout the Volunteer State. One of the most salient images of Scottish culture is the tartan, a traditional cloth pattern of stripes in different colors and widths that cross each other to form squares. In acknowledgment of Tennessee’s Scottish heritage, Chapter 82 of the Public Acts of the 101st General Assembly in 1999 designated the state of Tennessee’s official state tartan as the design adopted by the Heart of Tennessee Scottish Celebration in conjunction with all the other Scottish Societies in Tennessee. The design is a symmetrical tartan set, using the following colors: natural white, dark green, purple, red, and dark blue.
State Gem: Pearl
The pearl, taken from mussels in the freshwater rivers of the state, is the official state gem, as designated by Public Chapter 192 of the 91st General Assembly in 1979. Between the years 1882 and 1914, beautiful pearls were taken from many of the state’s streams and rivers, from the Pigeon and Holston in the east to the Forked Deer and Obion in the west. The Caney Fork in Middle Tennessee was noted for its pearl-bearing mussels, and “pearling” was a favorite sport for young people on Sunday afternoons at the turn of the century.
Tennessee river pearls are of all colors and they are “natural,” as the mussel made them—all pearl, all the way through. They have been found in various shapes—spherical, pear-shaped, and baroque or irregular.
After World War I, dams were built on many of the rivers, and the mussels lost their swift and shallow shoals. Also, the waters became more toxic, and pearling became unprofitable. Today, pearling exists as a by-product of shell harvests, which supply the cultivated pearl industry of Japan.
Tennessee river pearls are among the most beautiful and durable in the world. At Camden in West Tennessee, these river pearls are collected and crafted into rings, cufflinks, stick pins, and other jewelry. The historic Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm and Museum located in Camden, Benton County, is the official site of freshwater pearl culturing in the state, as designated by Public Chapter 506 of the 103rd General Assembly in 2004.
State Rock: Limestone
Limestone, a sedimentary rock found throughout Tennessee, was designated the official state rock by the 91st General Assembly with Public Chapter 42 in 1979. Particularly abundant in the middle section of the state, limestone Tennessee marble, as the metamorphic version of limestone is known, is widely used in public and private buildings. Tennessee limestone may appear off-white, pink, or dark red in color.
State Mineral: Agate
Agate is the official state mineral, as designated by Public Chapter 30 of the 106th General Assembly in 2009. Agate, a semiprecious gemstone, is a waxy, cryptocrystalline variety of mineral quartz in which the colors are present in bands, clouds, or distinct groups. On March 5, 1969, the 86th General Assembly, in adopting House Joint Resolution 42, declared agate the official state rock. However, the designation was changed by the General Assembly in 2009 to state mineral because stone, rock, and mineral were used interchangeably in the original resolution, and the Legislature wanted to correct this discrepancy.
State Fossil: Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica
Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica is the official state fossil, as designated by House Joint Resolution 552 of the 100th General Assembly in 1998. Tennessee was the thirty-eighth state to designate a state fossil.
Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica (nicknamed Ptero) was a Cretaceous bivalve found in the Coon Creek Formation of West Tennessee. It was a wedge-shaped, shallow-burrowing suspension feeder that inhabited the marine clayey-sand ocean floor that was West Tennessee seventy million years ago. Shells of Ptero are preserved unaltered in great abundance and are easily recognized by collectors. The associated ocean floor inhabitants were diverse and included other bivalves, snails, squid-like animals, worms, sponges, corals, crustaceans, sharks, fish, turtles, and marine reptiles. Ptero is now extinct. In fact, the extinction event that was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago may have contributed to the demise of Ptero. Only the genus Neotrigonia, with five species, has survived to the present and is found only in the Pacific Ocean, most commonly near New Zealand.
State Artifact: "Sandy"
“Sandy,” the ancient stone statue discovered in 1939 on Sellars Farm in Wilson County, was designated the official state artifact by the 108th General Assembly (Public Chapter 571, 2014). This prehistoric Native American statue is made of sandstone and depicts a kneeling male figure. It is a “prime example of the Tennessee-Cumberland Style of Mississippian stone statuary crafted and used during the Mississippian Period, A.D. 800–1500.”