State Symbols - The Awesome Mitten

16 Michigan State Symbols: Do You Know Them All?

Michigan has plenty of state symbols to represent all aspects of life in the Mitten State.

Locals will probably recognize the apple blossom as the Michigan state flower and the royal blue of the Michigan state flag, but did you know that the Michigan state book is Legend of Sleeping Bear? Or, that Michigan recognizes a state fossil (the Mastodon)?

Well, don’t you worry! Below you will find a list of some of the more obscure Michigan state symbols and you can learn a little Michigan history, too.

Michigan State Animal: White-tailed Deer

State Symbols - The Awesome Mitten
Young white-tail deer. Photo courtesy of Sandy Snide

Did you know that the Michigan state animal is the White-Tailed Deer?

In 1997, a group of fourth-graders from Zeeland campaigned for the state to recognize the white-tail deer among our state symbols. It is now recognized as the Michigan State Game Mammal.

Found in all of Michigan’s 83 counties, the white-tailed deer can run up to 40 miles per hour and swim up to 13 miles per hour. This beautiful powerhouse was a huge source of food and buckskin for Native Americans and early Michigan settlers.

Michigan State Fossil: Mastodon

State Symbols - The Awesome Mitten
Mastodon fossil on display. Photo courtesy of Ryan Somma

A geology professor at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, David P. Thomas began the campaign to get this giant mammoth look-alike as our state fossil in 2000.

Throughout his campaign, Thomas worked to get the support of many teachers and students while also holding petition drives and going to the local Rock Club meetings.

The Mastodon disappeared from North America around 10,000 years ago with an almost complete skeleton being found near Owosso, Michigan. The most intact trail of footprints was uncovered near Ann Arbor and remains have been found in over 250 locations all over the state!

Finally, in 2002, Thomas’s work paid off and the giant mastodon became the official state fossil.

Michigan State Soil: Kalkaska Soil Series

State Symbols - The Awesome Mitten
Kalkaska soil! Photo courtesy of Bradley Miller/Flickr

Kalkaska was first identified as a soil type in 1927 in Kalkaska County and its colors range from black to dark yellow.

Michigan designated it as the official soil in 1990 because it’s used to raise specialty crops like potatoes and strawberries, Christmas trees, and certain types of timber.

The soil can be found in both peninsulas and was formed in sandy deposits left by glaciers. Kalkaska covers nearly a million acres of land in the state!

Michigan State Reptile: Painted Turtle

A Painted Turtle At The Seven Ponds Nature Center In Dryden. Photo Courtesy Of Leeann Mclanegoetz
A painted turtle at the Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden. Photo courtesy of LeeAnn McLaneGoetz

Out of all the “unknown” state symbols, this one is a little on the fence. The creation of Mackinac Island is attributed to the painted turtle in some Native American legends.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the legend tells of a wise old painted turtle, Makinauk, that tells all the other animals that he has been told to create a new land. Each animal helps him by placing a handful of Lake Huron’s soil onto his back to create the beautiful island.

A group of fifth-graders from the city of Niles discovered that Michigan did not have a state reptile, so they started to work on getting the environmentally important painted turtle among the identified symbols.

Officially recognized as the Michigan state reptile in 1995, the painted turtle has yellow and red markings and is the only turtle still commonly found throughout the state.

Michigan State Wildflower: Dwarf Lake Iris

The Dwarf Lake Iris. Photo By Charles And Diane Peirce
The Dwarf Lake Iris. Photo by Charles and Diane Peirce

Did you know that Michigan doesn’t just have one state flower? In 1998, the dwarf lake iris became the official state wildflower

This rare Michigan wildflower thrives in low, wet spots, so it’s only found along the coastlines of northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as well as a few other isolated areas.

Classified as endangered, it only blooms for one week a year!

Michigan State Children’s Book: The Legend of Sleeping Bear

State Symbols - The Awesome Mitten
Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan. Photo courtesy of Lars Jensen

The first time I read The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Kathy-jo Wargin was in elementary school. The book is based on a Native American legend about a mother bear and her two cubs fleeing a fire along the Wisconsin shoreline.

They swim for many hours across Lake Michigan, and the mother bear reached the shore but her cubs did not. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to represent the lost cubs, South Manitou Island and North Manitou Island. 

Then, the spirit created a single dune to represent the mother bear, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is found in northern Michigan.

In 1998, Michigan declared The Legend of Sleeping Bear the official state book after it became the top-selling children’s book that year.

Michigan State Native Grain: Manoomin Wild Rice

Long before Michigan became the union’s 26th state in 1837, Native American tribes living in the upper Midwest grew manoonmin (mun-oo-min) wild rice, which is one of the most significant and sacred plant species grown by Great Lakes tribes. The name means “the good berry” in the Ojibwe language and many Great Lakes Obijwe communities still gather annually to harvest it.

Thanks to years of restoration efforts, the population of the manoomin plant has made a comeback. It typically grows in slow-flowing streams and in shallow waters of inland lakes.

Tribal efforts also led the Michigan State Legislature to pass a bill in the fall of 2023, designating manoonmin as Michigan’s state native grain. While other states have official state grains, Michigan became the first state to designate a state native grain. It currently awaits a signature from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to officially join the ranks of the Petoskey stone and American robin a state symbol.

(Unofficial) Michigan State Beverage: Vernors

State Symbols - The Awesome Mitten
Michigan staple, Vernors. Photo courtesy of

Michigan has yet to adopt any state beverage, but most Michiganders will attest that it’s Vernors. Created by pharmacist James Vernor in Detroit, Vernors is a highly carbonated ginger-ale pop and was sold exclusively in Detroit for several years after its creation.

Found in abundance in Michigan and neighboring states, if you live outside of this area you may not even know Vernors exists but any good Michigander knows it pares perfectly with vanilla ice cream and will cure any sickness.

Other Michigan State Symbols You Should Know

  • Michigan State Flower: Apple Blossom
  • Michigan State Bird: American Robin
  • Michigan State Tree: Eastern White Pine
  • Michigan State Gem: Chlorastrolite (aka Isle Royale Greenstone)
  • Michigan State Stone: Petoskey Stone
  • Michigan State Fish: Brook Trout
  • Michigan State Song: Michigan, My Michigan
  • Michigan State Nicknames: Wolverine State, Great Lakes State
  • Michigan State Drink: The Hummer

Were you surprised by any of these Michigan state symbols? Did we miss any Michigan state symbols? Let us know in the comments!


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