NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Happy Birthday Tennessee! June 1, 1796, the Territory South of the River Ohio became Tennessee – the 16th state of the Union. To celebrate this day we take a closer look at 20 symbols that represent our great state.

The Great Seal of Tennessee

The Great Seal of Tennessee was the first symbol adopted in 1801. Over the years the look of the seal has changed. The latest version was officially passed by the 95th General Assembly in 1987.

State Flag

The Tri-Star state flag was created by Col. Le Roy Reeves in 1905. The original flag flew first in Johnson City, then in Harriman before it was gifted to the state by Col. Reeves himself.

“The symbol being three bound together in one—an indissoluble trinity.”

Col. Le Roy Reeves

State Tree

The tulip poplar became the state tree in 1947. It was adopted by the 75th General Assembly. According to the Tennessee State Library and Archives it 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 Cultivated Flower

In 1973, the iris became our state’s cultivated flower. While no particular color was designated, the purple iris is the commonly accepted flower.

The iris is a herbaceous perennial of which there are about 170 species.

State Wildflowers

Tennessee has two official wildflowers. The first, the passion flower, also known as the ocoee, maypop and wild apricot. Then there’s the coneflower, Tennessee Echinacea. At one point it was thought to be extinct, but the coneflower was rediscovered in the 1960s and thanks to conservation efforts it has recovered.

coneflower on left, passion flower on right

State Sport Fish

The smallmouth bass has only been a state symbol for 16 years. It was voted to replace the largemouth bass in 2005. The Tennessee State Library and Archives said that due in part to the fact three of the largest smallmouth bass in the world come from the Volunteer State.

State Bird

Mimus polyglottos, better known as the Mockingbird, has been Tennessee’s state bird since 1933. The bird can tout having one of the most melodious songs of its own and skilled at mimicking others too.

State Wild Animal

Tennessee has claimed the raccoon as its official wild animal since 1971. Sometimes called coon, the grey furry creatures are defined by three main features: hand-like paws, ring tails, and facial mask.

State Insects

The firefly and ladybug are Tennessee’s insects. Both designated so in 1975. The firefly, or lightning bug beetle, produces an extraordinary light that attracts mates and also repels predators. The ladybug, also known as the lady beetle, are sold to farmers to control pests like aphids.

firefly on left, ladybug on right

State Amphibian

Since 1995, Tennessee Cave Salamander can claim to be the number one amphibian in the state after being chosen as the official symbol. These cave dwellers are most commonly found in limestone caves that have streams in central and southeast Tennessee.

State Reptile

Also in 1995, the state adopted the Eastern box turtle as its reptile. These creatures are pretty small. Only grow to about six inches and can be distinguished by its dark black or brown shell with bright yellow, red or orange spots.

State Beverage

Move over whiskey – milk has the official stamp for state beverage. According to the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the state’s dairy industry produced nearly 100 million pounds of milk in 2007, totaling more than $200 million in cash. Milk was designated as a state symbol in 2009.

State Fruit

Whether you pronounce it tuh-mei-tow or tuh-mah-tow, the tomato has been the official state fruit since 2003.

State Gem

Oysters in the ocean aren’t the only place you can find pearls. You can also find them in mussels found in fresh water rivers in Tennessee. The 91st General Assembly designated the pearl as the state gem in 1979.

State Rock

The sedimentary rock, Limestone, can be found across the state but abundantly in Middle Tennessee. It was designated as a state symbol in 1979.

State Artifact

A piece of history was designated as a symbol for the state in 2014. The statue known as “Sandy” was discovered in 1939, on Sellers Farm in Wilson County. The artifact is prehistoric Native American statue made of sandstone. Click this link to check out the statue.

State Game Bird

The plump brown game bird known as the bobwhite quail, or partridge, was designated a state symbol back in 1988. The Tennessee State Library and Archives said, “In spring, the male’s clearly whistled “bob white” is answered by the female’s four-syllable whistle.”

State Dog

One of the Volunteer State’s newest symbols is the state dog. The bluetick coonhound was designated in 2019. The pup may look familiar to Tennessee Volunteer fans, because it’s also University of Tennessee’s mascot. The hounds were known for hunting and protection for early Tennessee settlers.

Tennessee 225: Dive into the history of the Volunteer State.