NATURE NOTE – Number 84 January 14, 2024


Ok, it’s winter, and maybe it’s best to just sit back and study nature in the warmth of your home in your
favorite chair. So let’s explore nature from the standpoint of …

Our current topic: Official state animals and plants.

Most states have declared assorted animals and plants as their official state bird, tree, insect, etc. You
can usually see a close connection between the geographic location of the state and that plant or
animal. As example, Alaska has the salmon as its state fish, and New Mexico has as its state bird the
Roadrunner and Maryland have the Baltimore oriole. So let’s look at some of these match-ups the state
politicians have put together to spotlight their state’s nature.

The state bird: Virginia’s state bird, the Cardinal, is shared by seven other states, including West
Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina. While quite popular, it’s not the most common state bird. The
Bluebird – Eastern or Western – takes that spot with eight states. The Meadowlark, again either the
Eastern or Western species is claimed by five states. Three states claim the Robin, the Goldfinch and
the Mockingbird.

The state tree: Virginia shares the Dogwood with Missouri. Various species of pine are the official state
tree of ten states scattered from Maine to New Mexico. Oaks of various species are used by five states;
four states out west use some species of spruce; and the Tulip poplar is used by Tennessee, Kentucky
and Illinois. Vermont claims the Sugar Maple and both Mississippi and Louisiana have the Magnolia as
their tree. Certainly a match-up of species, range, and state trees here.

The state flower: Virginia’s flower is the Dogwood, same as the tree. Several states have combined
these two (Mississippi and Louisiana for example), but many have a flower or bush in addition to its tree.
In some cases, this is a native plant, such as the Rhododendron in Washington and West Virginia, the
Yucca plant in New Mexico, or a domestic flower, such as the iris in Tennessee, the sunflower in Kansas
or the orange blossom in Florida. Texas adopted the bluebonnet in 1910 after a campaign by school
children for a state flower. This seems to be the way a lot of states selected their official plants and
animals. Interestingly, Maine has the white pine cone as its state flower, which is not a flower at all.

The state insect: Virginia’s Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is used by several other states and over 30
states have a butterfly of some species as their insect. The honey bee is the favorite of 18 states,
including most of our neighbors, and the lady bug represents 7 states. Two chose a praying mantis.
Several states have a butterfly category and another insect. Ants, wasps, and yellow jackets missed out

The state fish: Again Virginia has joined with 28 other states in selecting the native Brook trout as their
state fish. Several states established a freshwater fish and a saltwater fish, and Virginia selected the
Stripped bass as is saltwater fish. Four states went with catfish.

The state reptile: Virginia’s Eastern Garter snake, shared with Massachusetts, wins our official snake
title. As you might expect, the alligator represents Florida and Louisiana. Lots and lots of turtles earned
a spot and two states selected a rattlesnake: West Virginia and Arizona.
The state amphibian: the Red Salamander is Virginia’s official representative, shared with West Virginia.
Frogs seem to be a favorite. The bullfrog is it in Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Some states are
missing out here, as only 27 have an official state amphibian.

The state mammal: This gets a little tricky. Some states, like Virginia, selected a domestic mammal, the
American foxhound, as its state “animal”, while others went with wild mammals, such as the raccoon in
Tennessee (must be influenced by Davy Crockett). Texas went big in this category and has several
mammals as their official representatives: The longhorn, the armadillo (in the small mammal category),
the Mexican Free-tailed bat (in the flying animal category), and a state dog, and a state horse.

The state fruit: I thought this was an interesting choice for Virginia. It’s the Pawpaw, a small native tree
that produces a small, edible fruit not unlike a mango. It grows in the mountains of the state, but is not
particularly common or well known. Some other states chose wild plants such as huckleberries, but
most selected apples, peaches, or strawberries as its state fruit. There’s room for growth here, as only
thirty states have an official state fruit.

I could find no record of any states having an official mushroom or spider. I didn’t look for official state
lichen, millipedes, crayfish or grasses. Surely some states have these. State legislators have to find
something to agree on.

You might ask, so what? How does this get worked into nature exposure to scouts? Well, experience
has taught me that scouts are not real skilled at identifying where states are located on a U. S. map, or
the concept of plants and animals having ranges where they normally live or grow. Maybe, just maybe,
you could develop a fun activity with a map and list of animals or plants for scouts to match up some
state birds, trees or reptiles. “Where do you think the alligator goes?” “Which state might use the
Redwood as its state tree?” “What’s the state reptile for Utah? “ (answer: Gila Monster) This could end
up as an educational experience about the range of plants and animals as well a geography lesson.
There is a connection, but do your scouts know that? If this doesn’t work for you, just sit back, enjoy the
warmth, and figure out which three states use the Cottonwood as their state tree.


Thanks for reading NATURE NOTES. More in ‘24.

Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bob Garst