What Are State Symbols and Why Do We Have Them?

The official state symbols of various US States have been selected over the years to represent each state’s cultural heritage and natural treasures.  More are being added to the lists all the time including some more unusual choices.

Each symbol distinguishes the state from its neighbours and tells people what is special and unique about the state.

When a bill that proposes a state symbol is signed into law then the governor will designate that symbol as chosen by the state.  Individuals and organisations can ask for animals, plants and anything else they can think of to be designated as a state symbol, although not all proposals are accepted.

Alabama State: Origin and Motto

Alabama became the 22nd state in 1819.  It is believed that the word originated from the Choctaw language but there are disagreements to its meaning.  Some believe it means ‘here we rest’ whereas others believe it means ‘to gather’.


Alabama’s motto is ‘We Dare Defend Our Rights’, with its Latin translation being ‘Audemus jura nostra defendere’.

State Flag

The official description of Alabama’s state flag is that it should be a crimson cross of St Andrew on a field of white and has been flown since 1865.  Previous to this a flag featuring a cotton plant and a rattlesnake had been used.

State Mammal: The Black Bear

The state mammal for Alabama was designated as the black bear in 1996.

Black bears are shy and secretive animals that can be found in the state of Alabama although the population is dwindling.  The Alabama Black Bear Alliance (ABBA) is aiming to combat this.

State Bird: The Yellowhammer Woodpecker

Designated in 1927, the Yellowhammer Woodpecker is the official state bird of Alabama , who are the only state to have chosen a woodpecker as their state bird.

The Yellowhammer, correctly known as the Northern Flicker, has been a symbol for Alabama since the Civil War, with Alabama often being referred to as the Yellowhammer State .

Northern Flickers are mostly ground foragers, seeking insects, nuts and berries.

State Horse: The Racking Horse

In 1975, the Racking Horse was designated as Alabama ’s official state horse.  One of 12 states so far to choose a state horse, Alabama is also home to the Racking Horse Breeders Association of America headquarters.

The Racking Horse is known for its smooth natural gait which saw its popularity grow on the great southern plantations as it could be comfortably be ridden for hours.

State Game Bird: The Wild Turkey

The official state game bird for Alabama was designated as the wild turkey in 1980.  Despite all but disappearing in the 1900s, after wildlife organisations intervened, today 6.4 million wild turkeys roam the lower 49 states.

State Flower: The Camellia

In 1959, the camellia replaced the original state flower the goldenrod, which had first been adopted in 1927.

The camellia colours go from white through pink to red, with yellow flowers only being found in South China and North Vietnam

State Tree: The Southern Longleaf Pine

In 1949, Alabama designated ‘the southern pine tree’ as its official state tree.  It wasn’t until 1997 that it was specified as the southern longleaf pine.

The pine ecosystem that once covered 90 million acres in the South Eastern states has now dwindled to patches covering only 3 million acres.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service are working on restoring this damaged habitat.

State Gemstone: The Star Blue Quartz

The star blue quartz became the Alabama state gemstone in 1990.

Quartz occurs when volcanoes melt silica that is then carried into crevices by water where it then crystallises.

State Fruit: The Blackberry

The blackberry was designated as Alabama’s official state fruit in 2004.

Blackberries can be used to make jellies, jams and many other treats.

State Shell: Johnstone's Junonia

1990 also saw Alabama designate its official state shell; Johnstone’s Junonia.

The shell is named after a conchologist from Alabama , K Y Johnstone.

The shell which is home to a deep-water marine mollusc is only found in Alabama waters.


An Unusual One!

Alabama has chosen an official state barbecue championship, designating the ‘Christmas on the River Barbecue Cook-off’ which is an annual event involving teams from 9 states, 75 judges and over 8,000 barbecue lovers!