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What are State Symbols?

State symbols are unique emblems chosen to represent the cultural heritage and natural treasures of each state. From the majestic California redwood to the vibrant Texas bluebonnet, these icons reflect the pride and identity of the local populace. Discover how your state's symbols weave into the tapestry of its history—what fascinating stories might they tell?
G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

State symbols are any type of symbol or imagery, including animals, plants, rocks, and even articles of clothing, that are chosen by the residents and legislature of a state within the United States (US) to be representative of that state. These symbols are often indicative or emblematic of the region, usually being animals and plants native to the state or area, and may be other things that are particularly important to a state. Similarly, these state symbols may also be popular aspects of tourism within a state, or some part of typical society within the state that the residents are proud of.

Much like how most countries have flags, plants, and animals that serve as symbols for the nation, the individual states within the US also choose various things to serve as state symbols. While each state is part of the US as a whole, state identity and symbolic independence is an important part of most states' history and culture. Despite the common use of state symbols for maps and other geographic decoration, some states may choose symbols that are not necessarily what everyone else thinks of regarding the state.

The humpback whale is the state marine mammal of Hawaii.
The humpback whale is the state marine mammal of Hawaii.

For example, though most people usually think of the saguaro cactus when thinking about the state of Arizona, the state tree of Arizona is the palo verde. The state flower for Arizona, however, is the saguaro cactus blossom. Similarly, many people think of the roadrunner when picturing a desert landscape, but the state bird of Arizona is the cactus wren. New Mexico, though, did choose the roadrunner as the official state bird, and both states share the bolo tie as their official state tie or neckwear.

State symbols are chosen as emblems or signify something that is a source of pride for state residents.
State symbols are chosen as emblems or signify something that is a source of pride for state residents.

Seven different states all use the northern cardinal as their state bird, ranging from Kentucky to Illinois. State symbols are typically chosen by the legislature of a state, though they can be proposed by residents. They can then be officially recognized through the ratification of a law proposing the potential symbol.

Many states have very specific state symbols as well, which typically indicate plants, animals, or even works of art that are important to the region. For example, the state of Hawaii has a state mammal, a state marine mammal, and a state fish, all found in the ocean around the Hawaiian Islands. The state mammal for Hawaii is the Hawaiian monk seal, the state marine mammal is the humpback whale, and the state fish is the uniquely named humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Rhode Island even has an official state symbol of American folk art: the Charles I. D. Ouff Carousel found at Crescent Park in Rhode Island.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are state symbols and why are they important?

State symbols are official designations by a state that represent its cultural heritage, natural treasures, and history. They are important because they foster state pride, celebrate unique aspects of the state, and serve as educational tools for residents and visitors. Symbols can include animals, plants, minerals, and even foods that hold significance to the state. For instance, the cardinal is a popular state bird, officially representing seven states due to its widespread presence and popularity.

How are state symbols chosen and who decides on them?

State symbols are typically chosen through a legislative process where lawmakers, often prompted by public opinion or campaigns by interest groups, introduce a bill to designate a new symbol. The decision is made through a democratic process, with the symbol often being voted on by the state legislature. In some cases, symbols are chosen after being championed by schoolchildren, civic organizations, or other community groups, reflecting the values and preferences of the state's residents.

Can a state have multiple symbols in the same category?

Yes, a state can have multiple symbols in the same category. For example, a state might have both a state flower and a state wildflower, or a state bird and a state game bird. This allows states to highlight different aspects of their natural environment and cultural heritage. Texas, for instance, has both a state flower (the bluebonnet) and a state native shrub (the Texas purple sage), showcasing the diversity of its flora.

What are some of the most common types of state symbols?

Some of the most common types of state symbols include the state flag, state seal, state bird, state flower, and state tree. However, there are many other categories, such as state songs, state fossils, state minerals, state insects, and even state dances. These symbols are as diverse as the states themselves, with each state selecting symbols that have a special meaning or historical significance to its citizens.

How can I find out what my state's symbols are?

To find out what your state's symbols are, you can visit your state government's official website or check with the state's historical society or library. Many states have dedicated pages or publications that list and describe their symbols. Additionally, educational resources like the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website provide comprehensive lists and details about state symbols across the United States.

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Discussion Comments

kentuckycat

@cardsfan27 - I feel like that states simply model their state symbols off of other states that have picked such symbols.

I understand the need for some state that is on the ocean to have a state fish, but there is not a need for state in the Midwest to have a state fish, when the state has no historical or economic connection to fishing.

However, because other states have a state symbol for a fish, a state that does not have one feels like they need to designate a local fish to fill the state symbol.

I have to also agree that this is way over done in most states, and they need to keep it to simple things, such as a state flag, seal, and things that are connected to the states culture, history, or economy.

cardsfan27

@titans62 - I absolutely agree. I live in the state of Illinois and we have a state dance, a state fossil, and a state snack.

The square dance is our state dance, and it is a very common dance that people do not really associate the dance with people in the state.

The state fossil, I personally have only heard of this particular state fossil, because it was picked as the official state fossil and really does not have any other significance besides that.

Also, the state snack is popcorn and what more common of a snack could one pick? There is no significant association with the state behind it and it really makes it seem like there is no point whatsoever in picking something like this.

I really have to wonder exactly why they pick so many state symbols and feel the need to pick the things that they do.

titans62

@jcraig - I understand completely how you feel. To be honest I feel that there is really no point in picking such state symbols as a state rock or state fish, when the state I live in is not known for either of the state symbols represented.

However, at the same time I do feel that it is necessary for a state to pick symbols in order to express their uniqueness and difference as a state compared to others. However, too many states pick really unnecessary symbols to create imagery for their state, because they add absolutely nothing besides create more trivia questions for people that study things such as that.

jcraig

I have to be totally honest I understand how states use certain symbols as images to identify their state, but I really feel like states tend to overdue it as far as these states symbols go.

I really do not understand exactly why so many states need to pick the same state bird, as many have done with the cardinal, when the bird is not a really appropriate symbol of their state.

When this occurs states are merely picking something to fill the state symbol and I feel that this is a bit unnecessary and waste of politicians time and money to pass legislation for unnecessary state symbols that do not add anything to the state's legacy, history, or image.

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    • The humpback whale is the state marine mammal of Hawaii.
      By: s1000rr
      The humpback whale is the state marine mammal of Hawaii.
    • State symbols are chosen as emblems or signify something that is a source of pride for state residents.
      By: Anna
      State symbols are chosen as emblems or signify something that is a source of pride for state residents.