Discover Why Idaho Is Called the Gem State

Written by Jennifer Geer
Updated: October 4, 2023
Share on:


Idaho is famous for more than just potatoes. Nicknamed the “Gem State”, Idaho has a greater variety of gemstones than anywhere else on Earth, except for Africa. However, there is more to how Idaho obtained its nickname than having a lot of gemstones. Just how did Idaho get its nickname? Read on to discover why Idaho is called the “Gem State”.

Why is Idaho Called the Gem State?

Tributary of the Payette River in Grandjean Idaho, at the Sacajawea Hot Springs

Much of Idaho is a beautiful rugged wilderness.

©Melissa Kopka/iStock via Getty Images

Although the gem state is appropriately named, (Idaho produces around 240 different minerals), exactly how the state got its nickname is a bit more complex. 

Before Idaho gained its statehood in 1890, it was a territory. The name, “Idaho,” was thought to have come from a Shoshone Native American word meaning “gem of the mountains”. However, the word was not from a Native American tribe. Mining lobbyist, George M. Willing, made the word up entirely. “Idaho” was intended to be the name of a different western state, Colorado. But when Congress was deciding on a name for that territory, they realized Idaho was a made-up word with no Native American origin. So, they chose the Spanish word “Colorado” instead.

Some years later, when minerals were found in the area that is Idaho today, and prospectors began flocking to the territory, all was forgotten about Idaho being a fake word. Hence, Idaho became the Idaho territory and was known as the “gem state.”

Idaho: The Gem State

Regardless of where the name came from, the gem state is an appropriate nickname for Idaho. There are many different specimens of minerals and stones found in the mountains of Idaho. The state produces up to 72 types of precious and semi-precious stones and up to 240 different minerals. Many of the minerals and stones are unique, with specimens kept in museums.

The Star Garnet: Idaho’s State Gem

A faint star effect is visible on the surface of the pyrope garnet.

The star garnet has a unique property that allows it to display a star reflection.


Idaho has an official state gem, the star garnet. It’s a rare stone only found in Idaho and one other place in the world, India. The stone gets its name from its reflection, which looks like a pointed star. Aside from the star garnet, some of the other unique minerals and precious stones produced in Idaho include opal, topaz, rock crystal, jade, tourmaline, amethyst, and aquamarine.

The Emerald Creek Garnet Area 

Anyone can search for star garnets in the Emerald Creek Garnet Area located in Idaho’s panhandle. Guests can buy a permit and dig up their precious stones. 

You can have the same experience as the miners of the 1800s. Start by shoveling dirt and rocks into a pail. Sift the dirt out, sluice what’s left with running water, and look for something special. The park has a daily limit of five pounds of garnets per guest.

What Are Some Other State Symbols of Idaho?

Baskets of fresh Irish Potatoes

Idaho’s official state vegetable is the potato.


In addition to being known as the gem state, Idaho is known for its potato production. It’s also a naturally beautiful state full of lakes, rivers, streams, mountains, and an abundance of wildlife. Let’s take a look at some of the other symbols that represent Idaho.

State Vegetable: The Potato

It should come as no surprise, that the potato is the state vegetable for Idaho and has been since 2002. Idaho has the perfect climate (warm sunny days and cool nights) and soil (volcanic) for growing high-quality potatoes.

State Amphibian: Idaho Giant Salamander 

Idaho doesn’t have an official state mammal, but it does have a state amphibian, the Idaho giant salamander. The giant salamander is native to Idaho. Although you may find some specimens in other states, most Idaho giant salamanders live within the borders of Idaho.

State Bird: Mountain Bluebird

A pair of Mountain Bluebirds pause for a rest during their house hunting expedition.

The vivid blue mountain bluebird lives in the western part of the United States.

©Richard Seeley/

This little blue songbird was adopted as a state bird in 1931. It prefers to live in grasslands throughout Idaho and other western states. Male mountain bluebirds are vivid shades of sky blue, while the females are gray with some blue coloring.

State Insect: Monarch Butterfly

Since 1992, the elegant Monarch butterfly has been Idaho’s state insect. These impressive insects migrate thousands of miles to reach central Mexico in the winter where they hibernate. You can see them flying through Idaho in the fall on their way back to Mexico.

State Fish: Cutthroat Trout

A Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout in an angler's hand prior to being released

Cutthroat trout live in Idaho and come in a variety of colors, however, green, gold, and gray are the most common colors.

©Ryan Cuddy/

Idaho’s official fish, the cutthroat trout is native to the state and a popular fish for anglers to catch. Its name comes from a red band under its throat that gives the appearance its throat has been cut. The trout thrives in pristine bodies of freshwater. Idaho’s healthy waterways can support the trout population.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

Share on:
About the Author

Jennifer Geer is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on animals, news topics, travel, and weather. Jennifer holds a Master's Degree from the University of Tulsa, and she has been researching and writing about news topics and animals for over four years. A resident of Illinois, Jennifer enjoys hiking, gardening, and caring for her three pugs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.