Symbols of Michigan – And Why They’re Significant

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Michigan, a constituent state of the U.S.A, is one of the smaller states which touches four of the five Great Lakes. Its name was derived from an Ojibwa (also known as Chippewa) word ‘michi-gama’ meaning ‘large lake’. Since Michigan was admitted to the Union as the 26th state in January 1837, it has become extremely important in the economic life of the U.S., retaining its prominence in agriculture and forestry.

Home to celebrities like pop singer Madonna, Jerry Bruckheimer (producer of Pirates of the Caribbean) and Twilight star Taylor Lautner, Michigan has many beautiful sites to see and activities to take part in. It’s one of the most visited tourist destinations in the U.S. thanks to its rich culture and history, diverse landscape and the legendary city of Detroit. Let’s take a look at some of the important symbols unique to this beautiful state.

Flag of Michigan

Michigan flag

The state flag of Michigan was officially adopted in 1911 and depicts the coat of arms set on a dark blue field. The first flag of the state was flown the same year Michigan achieved statehood -1837. It featured the coat of arms and the image of a lady on one side, and the image of a soldier and a portrait of the first governor Stevens T. Mason on its reverse side. This early flag is lost and there are no images of it to be found.

The second flag, adopted in 1865, featured the U.S. coat of arms on one side and the state coat of arms on the other but it was changed to the present flag which features the current coat of arms of Michigan. It’s been in use ever since it was adopted.

Coat of Arms of Michigan

In the center of the coat of arms is a blue shield which has the image of the sun rising over a peninsula and a lake. There’s also a man with one hand raised, symbolic of peace, and a long gun in the other hand, representing the fight for the nation and state as a frontier state.

The shield is supported by an elk and a moose and on its crest is the American bald eagle, a symbol of the United States. There are three Latin mottos from top to bottom:  

  • ‘E Pluribus Unum’ – ‘Out of many, one’.
  • ‘Tuebor’ – ‘I will defend’
  • ‘Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice’ – ‘If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.’

‘The Legend of Sleeping Bear’

Written by Kathy-Jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, the popular children’s book ‘The Legend of Sleeping Bear’ was officially adopted as the official state children’s book of Michigan in 1998.

The story is about a mother bear’s eternal love for her cubs and the challenges she faces making the journey across Lake Michigan with them. It’s based on a little known Native American legend of how the Sleeping Bear Dunes of Lake Michigan came into existence. It’s believed that the legend of Sleeping Bear was a story first told by the Ojibwe people of Michigan but over time, it almost disappeared altogether.

The book has been described as beautifully written and moving and it’s a favorite among the children of the state.

 State Fossil: Mastodon

Mastodon Michigan

The mastodon was a large, forest-dwelling animal that looks slightly similar to a woolly mammoth, but with straighter tusks and longer body and head. Mastodons were roughly about the same size as Asian elephants of today, but with much smaller ears. They originated in Africa around 35 million years ago and entered North America around 15 million years later.

Mastodons later disappeared from North America and it’s widely believed that the mass extinction was due to overexploitation by Paleoamerican hunters (also known as Clovis hunters). Today, the magnificent mastodon is the official fossil of the state of Michigan, designated in 2002.

State Bird: Robin Redbreast (American robin)

Robin bird

Named the official state bird of Michigan in 1931, the robin redbreast is a small passerine bird with an orange face, gray-lined breast, brownish upper-parts and a white belly. It’s a diurnal bird, meaning that it prefers venturing out during the day. However, it sometimes hunts insects in the night. The bird is said to be a symbol of good fortune and spring song. Additionally, it also symbolizes re-birth, passion and a new beginning.

The robin redbreast is a popular bird in Michigan noted by the legislation to be the ‘best known and best loved of all birds’. Therefore, it was designated as the official state bird after an election that was held by the Audubon Society of Michigan in 1931.

State Gemstone: Isle Royale Greenstone

Also known as ‘Chlorastrolite’, the Isle Royale Greenstone is a bluish-green or entirely green stone which has stellate masses with a ‘turtleback’ pattern. The masses are chatoyant, meaning that they vary in luster. This stone is usually found as rounded, bean-sized beach pebbles and when polished, it can be used for making jewelry.

The stone is also sometimes incorporated into mosaics and inlays. It’s commonly found in Isle Royale in Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 1973, the state of Michigan declared Isle Royale Greenstone as its official state gem and collecting these stones is now considered illegal. 

State Song: ‘My Michigan’ and ‘Michigan, My Michigan’

‘My Michigan’ is a popular song written by Giles Kavanagh and composed by H. O’Reilly Clint. It was officially adopted as the state song of Michigan by the state legislature in 1937. Although it’s the official anthem of the state, the song is hardly ever sung on formal state occasions and the reason why isn’t exactly clear.

Many people believe that another famous song ‘Michigan, My Michigan’, which dates back to the Civil War is the official song of the state and it could be due to this misconception that the actual state song isn’t in use.  As a result, both songs remain as official and unofficial symbols of the state.

State Wildflower: Dwarf Lake Iris

Native to the Great Lakes of eastern North America, the dwarf lake iris is a perennial plant with violet-blue or lavender blue flowers, long green leaves that resemble a fan and a short stem. This plant is usually cultivated for ornamental purposes and is a rare wildflower that blooms for only about a week during the entire year. The flower is now listed as endangered and measures are being taken to conserve it. Unique to the state of Michigan, the dwarf lake iris was designated as the official state wildflower in 1998.

Isle Royale National Park

The Isle Royale National Park consists of about 450 islands, all adjacent to each other and the waters of Lake Superior in Michigan. The park was established in 1940 and since then it’s been protected from development. It was declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve back in 1980.

The park is said to be one of the remotest and most beautiful places in the U.S., serving as a refuge for moose and wolves. Encompassing a massive 850 square miles of spacious lands, natural wilderness and aquatic life, it remains an unofficial symbol of the state of Michigan.

State Stone: Petoskey Stone

Petoskey stones

Although the Petoskey stone was designated as the official state stone of Michigan in 1965, it’s in fact a rock and fossil that’s typically pebble-shaped and composed of fossilized rugose coral.

Petoskey stones were formed due to glaciation in which large sheets of ice plucked the stones from the bedrock and ground off their rough edges, depositing them in the northwestern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

The stone is one of the most beautiful, unique and difficult varieties to find especially since it looks like a normal piece of limestone when it’s dry. The people of Michigan love these stones so much they even have a festival to honor it. 

The State Quarter

The state quarter of Michigan was released as the 26th coin in the 50 State Quarters Program in 2004, exactly 167 years after Michigan became a state. The coin was themed ‘Great Lakes State’ (also the state nickname) and depicts an outline of the state as well as the 5 Great Lakes: Ontario, Michigan, Superior, Huron and Eerie. At the top is the state name and the year of statehood, while the obverse of the coin highlights a bust of the first U.S. president, George Washington.

State Reptile: Painted Turtle

The painted turtle is one of the most common species of turtle found in North America. Fossils indicate that this variety existed around 15 million years ago which means it’s one of the oldest species of turtle. It lives in fresh waters and feeds on algae, aquatic vegetation and small water creatures like fish, insects and crustaceans.

Found throughout the state of Michigan, the painted turtle has distinctive red and yellow marking on its limbs, shell and head. It was requested to be named as the official reptile of the state after a group of fifth-grade students discovered that Michigan didn’t have a state reptile. The state legislature accepted the request and in 1995 the painted turtle was declared the state reptile of Michigan.

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