8 symbols that help define Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) — Nothing quite tells the story of our great state like the things that make Tennessee, well, Tennessee. 

News 2 is digging deeper into the icons and symbols state leaders have officially selected to represent the Volunteer State. The Tennessee Blue Book produced by the Tennessee Secretary of State gives a synopsis of how and why these symbols came to be associated with the state. Some of these may even surprise you! 

State Symbol: You may recognize the Tristar circle. It starts from the Tennessee State Flag. Lawmakers in 1905 said the symbol must feature a circle in the middle of a blue field with three five-point stars inside it. Each star must be as close as “practicable” without actually touching one another. The highest star is to be placed in the upper left-hand corner of the circle.  

Tennessee State Flag: On April 17, 1905, the Tennessee General Assembly adopted a state flag. The flag was designed by Captain LeRoy Reeves, a first captain of the Tennessee National Guard. Captain Reeves said the three pure white stars represented the three grand divisions of the state. The stars were bound together by an endless circle of blue, which represented the state being bound together as one, indissoluble trinity. The stars represented East, Middle, and West Tennessee. The state symbol was to be placed on a field of crimson with a blue bar that would prevent the crimson from hanging limp.  

State Wildflower: The state wildflower was designated as the passion flower in 1933. The passion flower grows wild in the southern part of the United States and in South America. The Indians called the passion flower the “ocoee” which the prized as the most abundant and beautiful of all their flowers. The passion flower is also associated with early Christian missionaries in South America who saw the symbol of the crucifixion in the middle of the flower. 

State Sport Fish: The smallmouth bass was designated as the state sport fish in 2005. It took the place of the largemouth bass, the state’s previous sport fish, after three of the largest smallmouth bass ever caught came from Tennessee.  

The smallmouth bass is also known as a “bronzeback” because it will fight ounce-for-ounce harder than any other sport fish in Tennessee. The largest smallmouth bass ever caught in the state weighed 11 pounds and 15 ounces, which is also a world record. The smallmouth bass can be found in most streams and lakes in the state, with the exception of West Tennessee. 

State Commercial Fish: The channel catfish deemed the state commercial fish by lawmakers in 1988. It’s also known as the “spotted cat” or the “fiddler.” Channel catfish can be found in most Tennessee streams and many lakes. The fish is a bottom-feeder and a current-feeder. It is also widely stocked in farm ponds. 

State Wild Animal: The raccoon was adopted as Tennessee’s wild animal in 1971. Although well known for sorting through trash cans, these bushy-tailed rascals have a surprising skill: they’re great swimmers! In Tennessee, raccoons weigh between 12 and 15 pounds and measure up to 38 inches long. You can find them eating fish and frogs that they catch in rivers and streams.  

State Dog: Tennessee’s state dog is more than just a hound dog, it’s a Bluetick Coonhound! This four-legged friend was named the state dog in 2019. The Bluetick Coonhounds were known for hunting and the protection they offered to early settlers in Tennessee. Today, these dogs are used for raccoon and even bear hunting, according to the state’s Blue Book. These dogs can also be found in outdoor competitions, where they are judged by their speed, agility, barking, “treeing,” and tracking abilities.  

*It’s important to note, the state pet was designated as any dog or cat adopted from a Tennessee animal shelter. With up to eight million cats and dogs entering shelters each year, the state recognized the great need for loving homes for these furry companions.  

State Fruit: Tomato, to-mato, whether you think it’s a vegetable or not, it’s designated as Tennessee’s official state fruit! Lawmakers adopted this big red as the state fruit in 2014. To settle the debate, according to the state Blue Book, the tomato is a fruit because of the part of the plant it comes from. A fruit develops from the fertilized ovary of a flower and has seeds, while a vegetable is any edible part of the plant other than the fruit. 

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