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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Grace Allen
Did you know Tennessee has more state symbols than any other state in the United States? In fact, we have more than thirty symbols! State symbols are things that represent, or stand for, Tennessee’s land and people.
The most famous is our Tennessee flag. Believe it or not, Tennessee had been a state for over one hundred years before it finally got a state flag. The flag has three stars in the middle, which stand for the three grand divisions of Tennessee. The grand divisions are East, Middle, and West Tennessee in our state.
Tennessee State Flag, 1905-1906
You may not have Tennessee’s flag at your home, but you can probably find a few of our state symbols by stepping outside your door. Have you ever tried to catch lightning bugs in your back yard, or had a ladybug land on your shoulder? If you answered yes, then you already know two of our state symbols! The lightning bug and ladybug are our official insects of Tennessee. The ladybug is actually a type of beetle. The ladybug (or ladybeetle) is not just pretty, it is also important for protecting farms around our state. Ladybugs eat other bugs that ruin crops. Farmers actually buy ladybugs to protect their crops!
Many of our state symbols, like these insects, are examples of wildlife and resources found in Tennessee. Resources are things that people use and they often come from nature. Limestone is a resource. It is our state rock, and is found all over the state. It is used to build many things, including our State Capitol building. Wildlife is a term for the plants and animals found in nature. The passionflower is a state symbol that is an example of Tennessee wildlife.
Tennessee State Capitol
The passionflower may look funny, but it has a cool history. The plant was first named Ocoee, and American Indians used it for medicine and food. Later, this flower was named “passionflower” by European settlers. It’s also been called a “Maypop” because the plant’s fruit makes a popping sound when it opens. A hundred years ago, the passionflower was chosen as the state flower by schoolchildren like you. Even though children chose the passionflower, some people wanted to make the iris the state flower. After several years, it was decided that the passionflower would be the state wildflower and the iris would be the state cultivated flower.
Passionflower (left) and Iris
Since there is so much wildlife in Tennessee, we have three flowers, three insects, two fish, and two trees as state symbols! You can find many state symbols right in your neighborhood, from the Tulip Poplar tree to the Easter box turtle. So, the next time you go on a walk, see if you can spy one of our state symbols!
Symbols - Things that stand for another meaning or idea
Grand Divisions – The three areas of Tennessee: East, Middle, and West Tennessee.
Wildlife – The plants and animals found in nature.
Resources – Things that people use to live or improve life, which usually come from nature.
Cultivated - Plants grown by a person on purpose.
Which insect helps farmers by eating bugs that ruin crops?
What do the three stars on the state flag stand for?
List your favorite state symbols in order from most to least favorite.
What are some of the differences and similarities between the passion flower and the iris?
What new state symbol do you think we should have? Why?
Read about the other symbols of Tennessee below; go on a walk or in your back yard and play I Spy with the Tennessee state symbols.
Grace Allen is a Tennessee State Museum Educator
SSP.05 Develop historical awareness by:
Understanding that things change over time
SSP.06 Develop geographic awareness by:
Understanding relationships between people, places, and resources
K.12 Identify the following state and national symbols: American flag, Tennessee flag, and the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
K.17 Use correct words and phrases related to chronology and time.
1.01 Describe the cultural aspects of a place, including a student’s community and state.
1.21 Identify Tennessee symbols including state flag, state tree, state flower, state bird, state animal, and the significance of the state nickname.
1.23 Use correct words and phrases related to chronology and time including past, present, and future.