Illinois State Symbols
Illinois State Amphibian
eastern tiger salamander
Photo © Dr. Todd Pierson
The eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) was named Illinois’ State Amphibian after a vote of Illinois citizens in 2004 and approval by the General Assembly in 2005.
Illinois State Animal
The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was selected by schoolchildren as Illinois’ State Animal in 1980.
Illinois State Artifact
Illinois designated the pirogue as the official state artifact in 2016. A pirogue is a canoe made by hollowing-out a tree trunk. The pirogue was promoted by eighth-grade students at St. Joseph School in Wilmette as a tribute to the Native Americans who were the first inhabitants of Illinois.
Illinois State Dance
photo provided by BlueEyes60/pond5.com
In 1990, Governor Thompson signed into law a bill designating the square dance as the American folk dance of the State. Square dance is a term used to describe many individual dances done in a style that traces its origins back to Morris dancing in England and French dancing with influences of Irish, Spanish and Scottish dancing thrown in. It was revived in the 1950s and remains a popular pastime.
Source: Illinois State Museum
Illinois State Exercise
Cycling was designated the official state exercise in Illinois by the General Assembly. It was signed into law and became effective on January 1, 2018. “Cycling” is defined as the act of riding a bicycle for exercise. The law is meant to honor the role that cycling has played in Illinois both historically and currently.
Illinois State Fish
The bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) was elected the State Fish in 1986 by Illinois schoolchildren. Its name refers to the bright blue gill covers found on many males of this species. People sometimes call it “bream” or “brim.”
Illinois State Flag
Illinois has had two official state flags. The first was officially adopted on July 6, 1915, after a vigorous campaign by Mrs. Ella Park Lawrence, State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Early in 1912, Mrs. Lawrence began visiting local D.A.R. chapters throughout Illinois seeking cooperation in promoting selection of an official state banner to place in the Continental Memorial Hall in Washington, D.C. A prize of $25 was offered to the Chapter submitting the best design for the banner and four judges were selected to choose the winner. Thirty-five designs were submitted and the Rockford Chapter entry designed by Miss Lucy Derwent was chosen. State Senator Raymond D. Meeker introduced the bill that was to legalize the flag. The measure passed both Houses of the General Assembly and automatically became a law on July 6, 1915, when Governor Edward F. Dunne failed to affix his signature to the bill.
The move to design a new state flag was initiated by Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel of Waverly, then serving in Vietnam. The Illinois flag was one of many state flags that were hung on the walls of his mess hall; its identity was always questioned, so McDaniel requested that the flag carry the state's name. A bill to amend the original flag act of 1915 was sponsored by Representative Jack Walker of Lansing and was passed by the General Assembly and approved by Governor Richard B. Ogilvie September 17, 1969. This authorized a new flag to carry the word "Illinois".
Governor Ogilvie appointed a committee consisting of the State Historian, the Director of the Illinois Information Service and the State Records Archivist to develop specifications for the new state flag to ensure uniformity in reproduction of design and color by flag makers. Mrs. Sanford Hutchison of Greenfield, who had previously done extensive research on the official design of the state seal, submitted a flag design that contained all the required elements of the design as specified by law. It was accepted by the committee, the Secretary of State, and the Governor. On July 1, 1970, it became the official flag of Illinois.
Illinois State Grain
Corn was named the official Illinois state grain of Illinois as of January 1, 2018. Agricultural commodities generate more than $19 billion annually for Illinois, and corn accounts for 54 percent of that total, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Illinois State Flower
Illinois was the first of four states to choose the violet (Viola sp.) as its State Flower. It was selected by schoolchildren in 1908. The violet is also the State Flower of New Jersey, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
You might think that all violets have purple flowers. There are several kinds of violets, though, and you can find violets with yellow, white, blue-violet, lilac-purple and even green flowers!
Violets are found growing in all kinds of locations, from prairies and lawns to woods and wetlands. The flowering time of the violet depends on the species, but most bloom in the spring.
Cottontails (rabbits) eat the entire violet plant. Other species, like mice, wild turkeys and mourning doves, eat only the seeds.
One violet species is nicknamed “Johnny jump-up,” and many others have been the subject of poems and nursery rhymes. They have also been called “nature’s vitamin pill.” Violets are high in vitamin A and, ounce for ounce, contain more vitamin C than oranges!
Illinois State Fossil
Image © and courtesy of the Illinois State Geological Survey,
Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, University of Illinois, Champaign.
Tully’s common monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium), also known as the Tully monster, was selected as Illinois’ State Fossil in 1989. The first Tully monster fossil was discovered in 1958 by Francis Tully. Fossils of the Tully monster have been found only in Illinois.
The Tully monster was a soft-bodied animal. Its fossils are found in ironstone concretions, which are red-brown, rounded stones commonly found in rock removed from coal mines. This strange creature lived about 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian Period. It swam in the tropical ocean that covered Illinois at that time. Its sleek, tapered body and large tail fins imply that it was an active swimmer, perhaps a carnivore (meat-eater). Its segmented body was flexible and round or oval in shape. The body was about one foot in length.
The Tully monster had two eyelike projections on stalks. At the front of the body was an “arm” that ended in a mouthlike structure with eight to 14 sharp projections. The “arm” and projections may have been used for catching prey and bringing it to the mouth.
This animal is a mystery. Scientists don’t really know exactly what kind of animal it was. It may be related to snails, slugs and other mollusks, or it may have been a simple vertebrate. Researchers are continuing to search for the answer.
This drawing of a Tully monster shows it swimming through the ancient tropical Illinois ocean, searching for food. Beneath it, looking like small, bare trees, are two colonies built by tiny animals called bryozoans and a gastropod (snail) shell. In the background swims a cephalopod (Metacoceras sp.), a relative of the squid and octopus.
Illinois State Fruit
photo provided by ttatty/pond5.com
The GoldRush apple was named the Illinois State Fruit in 2007. Elementary students from Woodlawn lobbied for the inclusion of this category.
Illinois State Insect
The monarch (Danaus plexippus) was chosen in 1975 to be Illinois’ State Insect. Third grade classes in Decatur originally suggested the species.
Illinois State Microbe
Penicillium rubens is a mold (fungus) that is often found indoors. It grows well in conditions of high humidity. It has a velvety surface. Its spore-bearing filaments are smooth, 200-300 µm in length and are blue or blue-green. Its penicilli (hairy structures) are 8-12 µm long. It exists in several strains, including the Fleming's strain (CBS 205.57 or NRRL 824 or IBT 30142) from which the first penicillin was discovered, and the Wisconsin strain (NRRL1951) obtained from a cantaloupe in Peoria, Illinois, in 1944. This species has four chromosomes.
On May 31, 2021, the Illinois General Assembly approved Penicillium rubens as the official State Microbe. The designation serves to honor Peoria and the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, whose scientists with the help of local residents in the 1940s discovered a method of mass-producing penicillin. Penicillin is the most widely used antibiotic in the world. The methods were developed in time to provide penicillin to treat Allied soldiers wounded during the invasion of Normandy, France, which began June 6, 1944, and helped to revise pharmaceutical drug production.
The mold strain was found on a cantaloupe at a local store, not far from the laboratory in Peoria. The scientists discovered that when grown in vats with special nutrients, this Penicillium mold strain produced more penicillin than the Penicillium strain originally discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
Work at the Peoria research center continues today, including its curation of the ARS Culture Collection that houses more than 100,000 strains of bacteria and fungi—strain NRRL 1951 among them. ARS's Culture Collection also is the largest, single collection of beneficial microorganisms in the world.
Image used with permission from Houbraken J, Frisvad JC, Samson RA. Fleming's penicillin producing strain is not Penicillium chrysogenum but P. rubens. IMA Fungus. 2011 Jun;2(1):87-95. doi: 10.5598/imafungus.2011.02.01.12. Epub 2011 Jun 7. PMID: 22679592; PMCID: PMC3317369.
Illinois State Mineral
The Illinois General Assembly named fluorite as the State Mineral in 1965. The word “fluorite” means “to flow,” and this mineral melts easily. Fluorite is found in many different color shades: dark purple; amethyst; light blue; light green; transparent yellow; and clear.
Fluorite (CaF2) is made of the elements calcium (Ca) and fluorine (F). They form a mineral that is colorless. The colors we see in fluorite are caused by tiny amounts of other elements in the fluorite crystal. Fluorite is transparent. You can see through it. It forms clusters of beautiful cube-shaped crystals but is too soft and brittle to use for most jewelry. It breaks easily into eight-sided “diamonds.”
Large amounts of fluorite are present in deposits in southern Illinois. Native Americans collected fluorite and carved it to make objects. Modern mining of fluorite in Illinois began in the early 1800s. Today, fluorite is used in making aluminum, iron and other metal alloys. It is also used in the making of glass, plastics, ceramics, cement, chemical compounds, uranium fuel for nuclear reactors and rocket fuel. Fluorite even provides the fluoride in toothpastes!
Illinois State Motto, Slogan and Nickname
Illinois State Pet
Shelter Dogs and Shelter Cats
Shelter dogs and shelter cats that are residing in or have been adopted from a shelter or rescue facility in Illinois were named as the official state pet of the state of Illinois. The law became effective on August 25, 2017.
Illinois State Prairie Grass
Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) was named the Official State Prairie Grass in 1989.
This native plant grows statewide in moist soils and lowlands. It was the most abundant grass in the prairies that once covered most of Illinois. Today, big bluestem is sometimes grown in pastures as food for livestock.
Spring growth begins in April. The plant’s leaves are long and narrow. Its flowering structure grows in three finger-like branches. They look a little like a turkey’s foot, so sometimes this plant is called “turkey-foot” grass. It gets its “bluestem” name from the flower stalks which have blue-green stems that turn yellow or bronze in the fall. It blooms from July through September. The fruit produced by this plant is a grain.
Big bluestem is Illinois’ tallest prairie grass. Its upright, smooth stems may grow to eight feet tall. Pioneers said that it was as tall as a man on horseback. Its roots can grow as deep as the plant is tall. These deep roots help the plant survive when there is little moisture in the ground.
Illinois State Pie
In 2015, a law was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor naming “pumpkin pie” as the State Pie. It honors the pumpkin industry in the state that is prevalent in the Morton area.
Illinois State Reptile
The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) was named Illinois’ State Reptile following a vote by Illinois citizens in 2004 and official approval by the Illinois General Assembly in 2005.
Illinois State Rock
Photo © Joe Devera, Illinois State Geological Survey
Dolostone (CaMg(CO3)2)was named the State Rock of the State of Illinois in 2022. Dolostone is composed of dolomite, a mineral that is a compound of calcium, magnesium, carbon and oxygen. Dolomite may have a shiny and sparkling appearance or may look dull. Many dolostones in Illinois were originally limestones in which the calcite mineral was replaced with dolomite as magnesium-filled water moved through the rock.
Dolostone is found throughout the state. It is mined in quarries. Dolostone quarries are located mainly in the northern one-fourth, along the western side and in the southern tip of the state where this rock is close to the surface. Dolostone deposits in the remainder of the state are deep underground and would be difficult and expensive to remove.
Dolostone is important to Illinois in many ways. It is used in road construction. It is used in the production of magnesia (MgO), a chemical used in ceramics and metallurgy to remove impurities. Concrete production includes dolostone. Chunks of dolostone are used along stream banks and shores to control erosion. Dolostone removes pollutants from medical and hazardous waste incinerators, coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities. This rock is used in agriculture to neutralize soil acidity and to provide magnesium and calcium nutrients as fertilizer for plants.
Source: Kolata, Dennis R. and Cheryl K. Nimz, Editors. 2010. Geology of Illinois. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, Illinois State Geological Survey, Champaign, Illinois. 530 p.
Illinois State Snack Food
Second and third graders from a Joliet elementary school, along with their teacher, completed a class project attempting to make popcorn the official snack food of the State of Illinois. The General Assembly made that designation official in 2003.
Popcorn pops because water is stored in a small circle of soft starch in each kernel. As the kernel is heated, the water heats, the droplet of moisture turns to steam, and the steam builds up pressure until the kernel finally explodes to many times its original volume.
Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year! The average American eats about 68 quarts!
While the first breakfast cereal was made by adding sugar and milk to popped popcorn, a shortage of baking flours after World War II forced bread makers to substitute up to 25% of wheat flour with ground popped popcorn. Over the years, popcorn also has been used as an ingredient in pudding, candy, soup, salad and entrees.
Popcorn’s nutritional value comes from the fact that, like other cereal grains, its primary function is to provide the body with heat and energy.
Microwave popcorn is the same as other popcorn except the kernels are usually larger, and the packaging is designed for maximum popability.
Source: Ag Day Food Fun Facts
Illinois State Bird
Illinois was the first of seven states to select the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) as its State Bird. The cardinal was chosen in 1929. Illinois schoolchildren voted for the State Bird. The other candidates were the bluebird, meadowlark, bobwhite (quail) and oriole. The cardinal is also the State Bird of Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Illinois State Snake
eastern milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)
Photo © Dr. Todd Pierson
The eastern milksnake averages 24 to 43 inches in length, has smooth scales, a y- or v-shaped mark at the back of the head, large blotches (brown with black borders) on a gray or white back alternating with small blotches (33-46) on the sides and a head about the same width as the neck. This species is found in the northern one-third of Illinois. The red milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila), a related subspecies, is found in the southern one-third of Illinois. It averages about 21 to 28 inches in length with a blotch that ends as a collar shape right behind the head and 19-26 larger blotches on the body. The blotches are red or orange in adults. In central Illinois, the ranges of the two subspecies overlap with intergrades between the subspecies showing a combination of elongated or collar blotch patterns and from 21-38 body blotches that can be brown or orange.
This reptile lives in fields, woodlands, rocky hillsides and river bottoms. It hides under logs, rocks and boards. It overwinters in small-mammal burrows. The eastern milksnake kills prey by constriction. When disturbed, it will vibrate the tail rapidly, hiss and strike. Mating occurs in the spring. About eight to 20 eggs are deposited by the female in June usually in a rotten log, stump or leaf litter. Eggs stick together. Hatching occurs in August or September. This snake feeds on small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. It was given the name “milksnake” because at one time people mistakenly believed that it could milk cows.
Illinois State Soil
Drummer Silty Clay Loam
Drummer silty clay loam (fine-silty, mixed, superactive, mesic type Endoaquoll) is a rich, fertile prairie soil that was declared the Illinois State Soil in 2001. This dark, deep soil was first identified in Ford County in 1929. It can be found in 1,500,000 acres of land in Illinois. Drummer is one of the most fertile and productive soils in the world. Drummer soils formed in 40 to 60 inches of loess (wind-deposited silty materials) and the underlying deposits left behind by glaciers that moved across the state 25,000 years ago.
The topsoil of drummer silty clay loam is about 16 inches deep and is very dark brown to black in color. One reason for the large layer of topsoil is the prairie vegetation that grew above it. As deep roots from the prairie grasses died and decomposed, they left behind nutrients and organic matter in the soil.
The subsoil layer is more than two feet thick. This layer is gray-brown and has more clay particles in it than did the topsoil layer. The gray color comes from moisture that is locked in the soil.
The bottom layer, or substratum, starts three and a half to five feet below the surface. This layer is dark gray with spots or “mottles” of other colors and is made up mostly of soil material called loam. Few plant roots can penetrate this soil.
Illinois State Song - "Illinois"
Illinois State Tartan
Illinois Saint Andrew Society Tartan
Photo © Illinois Saint Andrew Society of the City of Chicago
The State Tartan of Illinois is the Illinois Saint Andrew Society Tartan. Its designation was signed into law in 2012.
Illinois State Theater
The Great American People Show
Photo © Staff of Theatre in the Park
The Great American People Show was a nonprofit theatre company that presented plays about American history, especially with a focus on Abraham Lincoln’s life. The theatre started in 1976 and ran for 20 years in Lincoln’s New Salem, near Springfield. In 1995, Illinois designated “The Great American People Show” as the official “state theatre of Lincoln and the American Experience.” In June 2022, this designation was revised to name “Theatre in the Park” at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg as the official State Theatre.
Illinois State Tree
In 1908, Illinois schoolchildren voted for the State Tree. They could select from native oak, maple and elm. The native oak was chosen as the State Tree. There are many kinds of oak in Illinois, so a special vote was taken in 1973 to pick the type of oak for the State Tree. Schoolchildren voted to make the white oak (Quercus alba) the Official State Tree of Illinois.
The white oak can be found in every county in the state. It grows best in upland areas and on slopes. It is not a tree that grows well in wet soil. An average white oak grows to 100 feet in height and three feet in diameter. A white oak can live for 350 to 400 years. Its leaves are bright green on top and pale green on the bottom. Each leaf has seven to nine rounded lobes. The white oak has gray-white bark and green-brown acorns. It gets the name “white oak” from the light appearance of the bark. It is an excellent shade tree because of its thick leaves and wide-spreading branches.
In the fall, the leaves of white oak trees turn colors before they fall off. They may be red, gold, brown, yellow or purple. Sometimes you can find all of these colors on the same tree!
The white oak is an important tree to people and wildlife. Settlers in the Illinois territory used its acorns to feed pigs and its wood to build homes. The ship, the U.S.S. Constitution, was built with white oak wood. It was called “Old Ironsides” because cannonballs were rumored to have bounced off of the hard, white oak wood during a battle in the War of 1812. Today, white oak wood is used to make many objects, including chairs, tables, cabinets and fences. Deer, wild turkey, songbirds, squirrels and other animals all live in or around the white oak and feed on its acorns.
Illinois State Vegetable
Sweet corn was designated as the State Vegetable in 2015. Elementary school students from Chatham worked with a local legislator to propose this category for a vote in the General Assembly.
Illinois State Wildflower
The plants commonly known as "milkweed" (genus Asclepias spp.) in Illinois, were designated the official State Wildflower in 2017. These plants are important nectar sources for pollinators and are vital to the larval stage of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). You can learn more about these 19 species here.
Milkweeds are soft-stemmed plants that die to ground level at the end of each growing season but grow back from the roots the next spring. Most have leaves that are paired on the stem or in whorls of four on the stem, but there are also milkweed plants with leaves alternating on the stem, and those that have so many leaves that it is hard to see a pattern. Most of them have sap that is white and milky. Milkweed plants contain cardiac glycosides. These chemicals are poisonous and affect birds and mammals. However, a few animal species have adapted to eating milkweeds. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweeds of the Asclepias and Ampelamus genera. The poisons accumulate in the body of the larval monarchs and are retained by the monarch in its transformation to the adult. They make monarchs unpalatable to many predators.
Milkweed flowers develop at the stem tip or in the leaf axils in the upper part of the plant. In some milkweed species the flowers are arranged in a spherical shape, while in other species the flowers droop. Color varies by species, but milkweeds can be found with white, pink, red, orange, green, red-purple and purple-pink flowers. The flowers are often described as having an hourglass shape. Each flower has five petals and five sepals that bend away from the other flower structures. A five-parted cup supports five small horns and hoods. The hoods contain nectar and are arranged around the central flower column. The flower column has slits in it. Inside each slit is an opening where pollen (containing male reproductive cells) must be delivered to fertilize the egg and start the development of a new milkweed plant. Also in each slit is the pollinarium that contains the pollen in packets.
Pollinators, including adult monarch butterflies, visit milkweeds for their nectar. Nectar is a sweet solution produced by flowers to attract pollinators. Milkweeds have a unique system for pollen transfer. When an insect visits a milkweed flower to drink nectar, its leg, antennae or bristles can slip into the slit in the flower where the pollen is stored. The pollen-containing structure clips onto the insect part. When the insect pulls away from the flower, this pollen packet goes, too. The same insect body part may slip inside a slit in the flower column of a different flower. If the pollen packet is placed precisely where it needs to be, that flower will be pollinated. If the pollen packet is not deposited in the exact position required, fertilization will not occur. The amount of precision required may be the reason that milkweeds produce so few fruits. Pollinator populations are declining. As their numbers continue to decrease, the number of viable seeds from milkweeds will also be smaller, leading to fewer milkweed plants, fewer milkweed flowers and less pollen and nectar for pollinators.
The fruit that develops from the fertilized flower is a pod that contains seeds attached to floss. Seeds with floss are easily dispersed by wind. An exception, though, is provided by the white swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis). This species’ seeds are dispersed by water instead of wind, and they do not have floss.
Illinois State Symbols activity book (English version)
Illinois State Symbols activity book (Spanish version)