The Roman numerals XVI signify that Tennessee was the 16th state to enter the Union. The plow, the sheaf of wheat and a cotton stalk symbolize the importance of agriculture, while the riverboat attests to the importance of river traffic to commerce.
The mockingbird (genus Mimus polyglottos) was selected as the state bird in 1933. 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.
Tennessee has two official state insects: the firefly and the ladybug. The firefly emits a luminescent light easily seen on summer evenings. The light is a natural form of incandescent light which man has never completely duplicated.
The reddish-orange ladybug has distinctive black spots on each wing cover. It helps farmers by controlling insect pests, especially aphids. In folk medicine, ladybugs were believed to cure various diseases such as colic and measles.
Tennessee river pearls are taken from mussels in the fresh water rivers and come in various shapes and colors. Unlike cultured pearls, which are partially man-made, these pearls are totally made by the mussel. They are 100% natural pearl all the way through.
In Tennessee's early history, four different towns served as the seat of government: Knoxville, Kingston, Murfreesboro and Nashville. Nashville was chosen as the permanent capital city in 1843. The capitol building was designed by noted architect William Strickland, who died during its construction and is buried within its walls. Marble quarried in Tennessee was used for the primary building material. A magnificent example of Grecian architecture, the building was begun in 1845 and completed in 1859.
Adopted in 1905, the flag features three stars representing the grand divisions of the state: East, Middle and West. The stars are bound together in indissoluble unity by an unending white band.
The tulip poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera) was adopted as the state tree by the State Legislature in 1947. The tulip poplar was chosen because it was used extensively by the Tennessee pioneers to construct their houses, barns and other buildings. The tree sometimes reaches a height of 200 feet and frequently shows 50-100 feet of trunk without a branch. The bark is smooth and brownish gray. The leaves are very smooth with a broad notch at the tip. The flowers are tulip-like, green-orange in color, and are 1-3 inches deep. In honor of the state's Bicentennial celebration in 1996, the yellowwood was named Tennessee's bicentennial tree.
Limestone, found just about everywhere in Tennessee, was declared the official state rock in 1979. Tennessee marble, as the metamorphic version of limestone is known, is widely used in public and private buildings. In 1969, the General Assembly had given similar status to agate, a cryptocrystalline quartz. This semiprecious gemstone is found only in a few areas of the state.
The passion flower (genus Passiflora) was declared the state wildflower in 1973. It received its name from early Christian missionaries to South America, who saw in the flower's various parts symbols of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The iris (Genus Iridaceae) was designated as the state cultivated flower by the Legislature in 1933. While there are several different colors among the iris, the purple iris is commonly accepted as the state flower.
Music is such an integral part of Tennessee's heritage that there are not one, but five official state songs:
The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a furry mammal with a bushy, ringed tail and a mask-like band of black hair around its eyes. Raccoons eat fish and frogs that they catch in rivers and streams. They measure from 30 to 38 inches long and weigh from 12 to 25 pounds.
In 1995, the General Assembly made the Tennessee cave salamander the official state amphibian and the box turtle the official state reptile. Other state symbols include: the Zebra Swallowtail, state butterfly; the Bobwhite Quail, state game bird; Channel Catfish, state commercial fish; Largemouth Bass, state game fish; and the Honeybee, state agricultural insect. These can be found by clicking the reference to the Tennessee Blue Book at tn.gov/sos/