Discover Why Kentucky Is Called the Bluegrass State

Written by Patrick MacFarland
Updated: September 30, 2023
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The United States is a melting pot of diverse and unique cultures. The country is made up of 50 beautiful states. Each one is unique — some are small, some are big, some are densely populated, and in others, you may not have a neighbor for miles. Every state also has a nickname. New Mexico, for example, is the Land of Enchantment. Rhode Island is the Ocean State. When it comes to Kentucky, it is a wonderful state where Abraham Lincoln was born. Its nickname is the Bluegrass State. 

But the question you may find yourself with is why? Why is Kentucky called the Bluegrass State? Well, we’ll answer all your questions! We’ll also explore Kentucky’s other symbols, a little history, and the geography of the state, along with some fun facts about it. Let’s take a look! 

Why Is Kentucky Called the Bluegrass State?

Kentucky moonrise

The Kentucky Derby is the oldest


race competition in the world, held on the first Saturday in May in Louisville.

©alexeys/iStock via Getty Images

Located in the Southwestern United States, Kentucky is called the Bluegrass State. If you’re in the bluegrass region of the state, everywhere you look, you will see bluegrass. The grass has a bluish tint because of the tint of the purple buds the grass has. Musicians started adopting “bluegrass” in the names of their bands or they started calling it “bluegrass music,” which is a kind of music that combines jazz, blues, old-time mountain music, and gospel.

Bluegrass is also common in fields and pastures because it’s everywhere. Bluegrass is great for horse pastures, especially, because of its nutritious value. And because horse racing is big in Kentucky, many attribute the bluegrass to giving horses extra strength in competitions.

In the 1960s, the State Legislature made it official. Afterward, ads and the state license plates started using the nickname.

Kentucky’s State Symbols

Like every state in the nation, Kentucky has many state symbols — the state flower, state animal, state flag, state bird, and many more. Below is a detailed list of all of Kentucky’s state symbols.

  • State Beverage: Milk
  • State Bird: Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  • State Bluegrass Song: “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Bill Monroe
  • State Butterfly: Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus)
  • State Dance: Clogging
  • State Fish: Kentucky spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
  • State Fossil: Brachiopod
  • State Flower: Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea)
  • State Fruit: Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)
  • State Horse: Thoroughbred (Equus caballus)
  • State Gemstone: Freshwater pearl
  • State Gun: Kentucky Long Rifle
  • State Insect: Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
  • State Mineral: Coal
  • State Motto: “United we stand, divided we fall”
  • State Music: Bluegrass music
  • State Musical Instrument: Appalachian dulcimer
  • State Rock: Kentucky agate
  • State Slogan: “Kentucky Unbridled Spirit”
  • State Soft Drink: Ale-8-One
  • State Soil: Crider Soil Series
  • State Song: “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster
  • State Sportscar: Chevrolet Corvette
  • State Tree: Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
  • State Wild Animal Game Species: Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

History of Kentucky

Welcome to Kentucky road sign

The 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, was born in a log cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

©AndreyKrav/iStock via Getty Images

Indigenous people from several tribes, like the Cherokee, Shawnee, Yuchi, and Chickasaw made Kentucky home for thousands of years before white settlers came to Kentucky in 1774. Daniel Boone, a famous pioneer, also established settlements in the state. 

The state of Kentucky was originally part of Virginia, but as westward expansion became more prominent, the land known as Kentucky broke away from Virginia in 1792. Kentucky was active in slavery with many of the slaves working the tobacco and hemp fields in the bluegrass region. During the Civil War, they remained neutral. However, many residents of Kentucky sympathized with the Confederacy, and in some regions today, residents celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.

Geography of Kentucky

Kentucky is a diverse state, geographically. The eastern part of the state is where the Appalachian Mountains end and where the coal mines are. The Mississippi Plateau region in the south features hills. The Bluegrass region is in the north-central part of the state. Kentucky’s climate is subtropical and humid. 

Wildlife in the Bluegrass State

Kentucky is quite a biodiverse state and you can spot different species of animals depending on the region you are in such as black bears, minks, and bobcats. And near the rivers, you’ll be able to see river otters. If you’re an avid bird watcher, look up and you may write down a few new birds for your list such as the red cardinal, the peregrine falcon, and the mountain bluebird. 

When it comes to the state’s flora, you will be able to find tulip poplars and Kentucky coffeetrees. If you’re a wildflower collector, there’s a good chance you will see purple coneflowers, dwarf irises, and wild columbines.

Fun Activities in the Bluegrass State

Mammoth Cave

Kentucky bourbon is famous and 95% of the country’s bourbon comes from here.

©ColorPlayer/iStock via Getty Images

If you happen to go in May, you’ve got to go to Churchill Downs and see a horse race. It’s an essential part of Kentuckian life and something you have to experience. There are also other activities you can do like visiting the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, and even the National Corvette Museum. 

More than half of Kentucky is covered in forests, so your chances of going on a hike while you visit the Bluegrass State are high. To experience natural parks, the two most popular ones are the Mammoth Cave National Park, where you can see part of the largest cave system in the world, and the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.

After the exhausting nature hikes, go treat yourself to some great Kentuckian food and drinks: a hot brown sandwich, a Kentucky Derby pie for dessert, and a Mint Julep to quench your thirst. 

Surrounding States

Kentucky borders seven states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri. Let’s take a look at some fast facts about Kentucky’s neighboring states.


Capital: Springfield

Population: 12.8 million

Admitted to the Union: December 3, 1818 (21st)

Nickname: Land of Lincoln


Capital: Indianapolis

Population: 6.7 million

Admitted to the Union: December 11, 1816 (19th)

Nickname: The Hoosier State


Capital: Columbus

Population: 11.7 million
Admitted to the Union: March 1, 1803 (17th)

Nickname: The Buckeye State

West Virginia

Capital: Charleston

Population: 1.7 million
Admitted to the Union: June 20, 1863 (35th)

Nickname: The Mountain State


Capital: Richmond

Population: 8.6 million
Admitted to the Union: June 25, 1788 (10th)

Nickname: Old Dominion


Capital: Nashville

Population: 29.1 million
Admitted to the Union: June 1, 1796 (16th)

Nickname: The Volunteer State


Capital: Jefferson City

Population: 6.1 million
Admitted to the Union: August 10, 1821 (24th)

Nickname: The Show Me State

Fast Facts About Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky, USA skyline on the river.

Colonel Sanders created the recipe for fried chicken and eventually opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in Corbin, Kentucky.

©Sean Pavone/

  • Population: 4.5 million
  • Capital: Frankfort
  • Admitted to the Union: June 1, 1792 (15th)
  • Governor: Andy Beshear (D)
  • Senators: Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R)
  • Representatives: James Comer (R), Brett Guthrie (R), Morgan McGarvey (D), Thomas Massie (R), Hal Rogers (R), Andy Barr (R)


And there you have it, you learned the why and the how about Kentucky’s nickname. The bluegrass region is covered in beautiful bluegrass that will leave you in wonderment. Seeing those majestic creatures called horses relaxing and eating will make you smile. The history of Kentucky is steeped in rich culture from the Native tribes that have called the state home to its settlers from other states that impacted its music and food. 

The Bluegrass State is a state with a vibrant culture and it won’t leave you disappointed. If you happen to visit Kentucky, just indulge yourself with some Kentuckian food, go to a horse race, and immerse yourself in the state’s nature. It’s guaranteed, you’ll leave singing the good ol’ bluegrass classic, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Rsfinlayson / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License / Original

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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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