Every state has their official symbols and Tennessee is no exception. Today we’re sharing a few official icons and where you can find ‘em in Knoxville!
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. You can find our state flag on flagpoles all over the city, but we thought this mural was more fun! Find it in SoKno at the Handy Dandy Market (#19 on our mural page here), and hunt for other murals while you’re at it!
Amphibian - Tennessee Cave Salamander | Photo credit Matt Niemiller
The Tennessee Cave Salamander was named official state amphibian 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. They live under the caves at Ijams, but since they are endangered and the caves are not open to the public, you can wander the grounds and you might get lucky and find other types of salamanders!
Beverage - Milk
Not gonna lie – did not even know there was such a thing as an official beverage, but here we are. Milk was designated as the official state beverage in 2009 and Tennessee has a robust dairy industry. To get that signature white mustache look no further than Cruze Farm. The iconic dairy girls of Cruze Farm serve swirls with smiles – enjoy soft serve ice cream in classic flavors like lavender and lemon custard. Try several varieties of milk fresh from the farm – whole, chocolate, strawberry, and coffee. If you plan a visit to Knoxville JUST for their ice cream, we couldn’t blame you.
Bird - Mockingbird
The Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, was selected as the official state bird 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 under parts; its length, inclusive of the long tail, is about 10 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. This bird is relatively common to find around here, but you might as well enjoy an easy walk through Seven Islands State Birding Park (Tennessee’s ONLY state birding park) to see if you can find – or at least hear – one!
Butterfly - Zebra Swallowtail
The Zebra Swallowtail was designated as Tennessee's official butterfly in 1995. This beautiful, winged insect has black and white stripes that run the length of its body with red and blue spots on its lower back. This beautiful specimen can be found all over this area, but try UT Gardens for a nice morning stroll.
Fish - Smallmouth Bass
The smallmouth bass replaced the largemouth bass as the official sport fish in 2005, due to its popularity and the fact that Tennessee has produced the five largest smallmouth bass in the world. The Tennessee River and surrounding lakes in the Knoxville area are well known for excellent fishing. In fact, Knoxville hosted the highest attended Bassmaster Classic to date in 2019, and local angler Ott Defoe took home the trophy! In November 2020 Knoxville will host the Hobie Tournament of Champions. There are several boat ramps to put in (Ned McWherter Park is the closest to downtown) or you can rent a kayak from Knoxville Adventure Collective if you’re downtown or River Sports if you’re in west Knoxville/Farragut at the cove.
Flower - Iris
The Iris is the official state cultivated flower. While there are several different colors among the Iris, and 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 flower. Come see some of these delicate beauties at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens!
Fruit - Tomato
Also did not know Tennessee has a state fruit – although honestly I think of it as a vegetable although I KNOW it’s a fruit. The Tomato was designated as Tennessee’s official state fruit in 2003. Tomato season is kind of a big deal in Tennessee, and Tomatoes from neighboring Grainger County (to the northeast of Knox County) are kind of like the San Marzanos of our region. Want to get your hands on some plump acidic goodness? Head to the Farmers’ Market!
Gem - Tennessee River Pearls
Tennessee River Pearls are among the most beautiful and durable in the world and named as an official state gem in 1979. Where to find them in Knoxville? You may have heard of Knoxville’s designation as “The Maker City”, and there are a few artisans that create beautiful jewelry with Tennessee River Pearls. Check out ACF Jewelry and Rick Terry Designs.
Insect - Honeybee
The official state agricultural insect is the Honeybee and was designated in 1990. The honeybee 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. If you’re wondering what the heck this photo has to do with a honeybee, this is Honeybee Coffee! This is their west location, they also have a shop in SoKno and a walk-up spot inside Oli Bea in the Old City. There’s also a honeybee mural, head here (#30) to plan a selfie with this incredible art designed and painted by Curtis Glover.
Reptile - Eastern Box Turtle
The Eastern Box Turtle was designated official state reptile in 1995. This peaceful creature usually reaches a length of less than six inches and has a shell of black or brown with spots of yellow, orange and red. This cute little guy is named Frankenturtle and he is an animal ambassador at Ijams Nature Center.
Rock - Limestone
Found just about everywhere in Tennessee, limestone was designated an official state rock in 1979. Tennessee marble, as the metamorphic version of limestone is known, is widely used in public and private buildings. In Knoxville, there are a few places to see the pink marble in person. Head to the East Tennessee History Center or the Knoxville Museum of Art. Both buildings are constructed of this beautiful limestone, and it looks even prettier after a rain. You can also paddle at Mead’s Quarry at Ijams to see where this unique stone came from. Read more about Tennessee pink marble here.
Tree - Tulip Poplar
The Tulip Poplar was designated as an official state tree of Tennessee 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." Tulip poplars can be found all over Knoxville, but we’d recommend enjoying them from the heart of downtown in Market Square and the adjacent Krutch Park!