Michigan State Symbols: A Traveler’s Guide
Michigan’s state motto is written across the flag in latin: “si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice,” meaning “if you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”
The motto holds true; Michigan truly is a pleasant peninsula, filled with unique wonders and wildlife that help exhibit just how special the state is.
If you grew up in Michigan, you may remember learning about them in school as a kid. As an adult you might recognize them while exploring Michigan’s beautiful woodlands, coasts, and lakefronts.
Read on to learn all about the state symbols of Michigan.
State Symbols of Michigan: A Guide
Michigan state symbols are found all over, from flags, seals, and even an official song, to the flora and fauna found across Michigan’s beautiful natural landscapes.
You may be able to name a few, but there’s more to symbols than just names; in fact there are some surprising stories behind Michigans state symbols.
Below are the 12 state symbols (not including the flag, seal, or motto) of Michigan and a bit about the history and stories that garnered them their status as official symbols of the Great Lakes State.
Michigan State Flower: Apple Blossom
Michigan’s oldest state symbol outside of the flag or motto, the apple blossom (Pyrus coronaria) was designated as the state flower in 1897. This flower blooms on crabapple trees every spring and can often be found in apple orchards to draw bees in for pollination.
Apple blossoms bloom into a white or pale pink color all throughout the branches, turning the tree’s canopy into a light bright beacon of spring.
It’s been noted as “one of the most fragrant and beautiful flowered species of apple,” and is a well-loved symbol of Michigan.
Michigan State Bird: The Robin
Since 1931 the robin has been Michigan’s state bird. The abundance of robins makes this one of the most well-known and well-adored birds in the state, lending itself to be a perfect symbol.
This distinctive bird with a bold orange chest and recognizable chirp is often the first sign of spring in Michigan.
Whether you’re in one of the big cities or in the remote wooded acres up north keep an eye out for a flash of color in the trees to spot the robin.
Michigan State Wildflower: Dwarf Lake Iris
The dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris) is one of the newer state symbols to join the fold, gaining state symbol status in 1998. This native flower is particularly rare, making it a standout in the list of symbols.
Though tough to spot one, the elusive wildflower dwarf lake iris grows exclusively along the northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and only blooms from mid-May to early June.
Despite the difficulties in finding it, the rarity and exclusivity of this wildflower makes it stand out as something that is truly almost wholly unique to Michigan.
Michigan State Stone: Petoskey Stone
The state stone is one of those symbols that every Michigander surely recognizes, whether or not they knew it to be an official symbol or not.
The Petoskey stone became a symbol in 1965 and has only continued to capture the hearts of Michiganders ever since.
Petoskey stones are a fossilized coral found exclusively on Lake Michigan shores in west Michigan, driving collectors in search for their own unique Michigan treasure.
Michigan State Tree: White Pine
1955 brought us the state tree – the white pine. This symbol is unique in its history, or more so the story it shares with us about Michigan’s history.
In the 19th century, Michigan was the national leader in the lumber industry and white pines stand as a symbol of that past.
While this sparked a massive economic boost for the state, the side effect of deforestation could not be ignored.
See some of Michigan’s largest white pines at Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling.
Check out our guide to Top Michigan State Parks to visit in the Winter HERE.
Michigan State Game Mammal: White-Tailed Deer
Another ubiquitous symbol of Michigan is the state game mammal, the white-tailed deer is found in every county in the state and visible on the coat of arms and flag seal.
In 1997, a group of Zeeland fourth graders lobbied for the white-tailed deer to be legally designated as a symbol of Michigan.
Despite being one of the most popular hunting targets, these creatures are not hard to find, sighted everywhere from backyards, neighborhoods, woods, and in unfortunate circumstances, on roads.
Whitetail deer are a staple of the ecosystem all over the state, which makes its status as a symbol well-deserved.
Michigan State Gem: Isle Royale Greenstone
The state gemstone Michigan is wholly unique to the mitten, typically found on the coast of Lake Superior in the Keweenaw Peninsula and around Isle Royale National Park. Chlorastrolite, more commonly known as the Isle Royale Greenstone, was designated Michigan’s state gem in 1972.
Found in basalt deposits, these dark green stones have lighter green markings that form a sort of webbing across the surface and make for wonderful jewelry or simply a unique addition to any collection of stones or gems.
Michigan State Soil: Kalkaska Soil Series
You may not have known it, but Michigan actually has a state soil. The Kalkaska soil series has been Michigan’s state soil since 1990, despite first being identified over 60 years earlier.
Kalkaska soil ranges in color from black to yellow-brown and formed as a result of sandy deposits leftover from glaciers.
More than 500 soils are found in the state, but Kalkaska is unique to the northern lower peninsula and the upper peninsula, covering over three-quarters of a million acres.
Michigan State Fossil: Mastodon
Knowing that Petoskey stones are fossils, you might think they’re the state fossil, but they aren’t. Since 2002 that distinction has belonged to the mastodon. Mastodon’s are prehistoric mammals closely related to wooly mammoths.
They grazed on plant life while travelling in herds, which might explain why mastodon fossils have been found at more than 250 sites statewide.
If you’d like to see a mastodon fossil in person, one of the most complete skeletons (found in Owosso, Michigan) is on display at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History in Ann Arbor.
Nearby you can also see the longest and most intact trail of mastodon footprints, which includes about 30 prints.
Michigan State Reptile: Painted Turtle
Much like the white-tailed deer, the painted turtle became a state symbol thanks to the efforts of students. After realizing we didn’t have a state reptile, some Niles fifth graders campaigned for the painted turtle to take the spot in 1995.
The painted turtle has a special place in the heart of every Michigander thanks to a particular story.
Much like the Legend of Sleeping Bear, the Legend of Mackinac Island tells the story of an iconic Michigan place using animals.
In the case of Mackinac Island, the legend tells the story of how the island formed on the back of a painted turtle, helping to justify its place as a Michigan state animal.
Michigan State Fish: Brook Trout
In 1965, Michigan’s state fish was the trout, leaving Michiganders to wonder just which of the native trout species was intended.
In 1988 Michigan legislature specified the brook trout, leaving the confusion and ponderings behind.
Brook Trout are known for their unique colors and patterns. These fish are native to Michigan and can be found all across the state, but are particularly widespread across northern Michigan and the upper peninsula in cold and clear streams, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Michigan State Song: Michigan, My Michigan
Michigan has a state song called “My Michigan.”
This official song was adopted in 1937, yet remains something of an obscure anthem for the state, due in part to the misconception that the state song is called “Michigan, My Michigan.”
The song was written in 1862 by Winifred Lee Brent and has since endured a few changes over the years at the hands of composers and lyricists from Grand Rapids and Detroit, though the tune, which matches “O Christmas Tree” has always remained.
About the Author-
Bella DiMascio is a Content Editor for mymichiganbeach.com. She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Westland and later attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where she majored in Communication Studies and minored in English: Writing. Creative writing has been a hobby and interest of Bella’s since she was in elementary school and she is thrilled to be using her talents to highlight the Great Lakes State. Outside of writing, Bella enjoys getting outside with her two Australian Shepherds, playing video games, and binging shows on Netflix.