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rough fescue and ammolite
Stephanie Jaffray | Rocks and Gems Canada

Alberta’s Emblems of Nature – “Our Provincial Things”

As we roll into summer, it’s perfect for learning about Alberta’s official animals, plants, and rocks

Think you know Alberta?

If so, take this quick test and see how well you do.

What is Alberta’s official flower, grass, tree, bird, mammal, fish, gem and stone?

See how many of these eight emblems you can get.

We managed a respectable six out of eight… but can you do better?

Check the answers below.

Prickly, Pretty, and Practical – Our Provincial Flower

We know this one because “Wild Rose Country” has appeared on Alberta license plates since 1973.

Alberta adopted the pink flowering, thorny-stemmed wild rose as its official flower in 1930. 

The flower adorns ditches, woodlands and sunny slopes province-wide.

Pretty to look at but a little prickly at times, it’s the perfect floral emblem for Alberta. 

The pink petals are edible and tasty, adding a beautiful garnish to salads. 

Indigenous peoples used rose hips to aid digestion and relieve gastrointestinal issues like indigestion and stomach cramps. They used rose hip oil topically to promote skin healing, reduce scarring, and hydrate the skin.

The prairie settlers used rose hips to make delicious jelly, still available at farmer’s markets across the province.

Wild rose, Alberta's official flower
Our iconic wild rose |

Disappearing Fast – Our Official Grass

No, it’s not cannabis. 

It’s a grass called rough fescue

Alberta has the largest area of rough fescue grassland in the world. 

We are the only province or state in North America with the plains, foothills and northern varieties of this native grass. 

Rough fescue cures on the stem, making it a highly sought-after forage for animals to find and graze during the winter. The bunchgrass has deep roots that hold and filter water, helping to prevent drought.

It is believed that rough fescue evolved with the rotational winter grazing habits of bison.

Due to its growth on fertile black soil, rough fescue habitats were highly favoured for cultivation. Consequently, much of its original expanse in central Alberta, especially on flatter terrains, has vanished. 

The most significant remaining patches of rough fescue grasslands in North America are located near Big Valley (Rumsey Ecological Reserve and Natural Area), in the Hand Hills (Little Fish Lake Ecological Reserve), near Bodo, and southeast of Wainwright. 

Thanks to partnerships of working ranchers and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, large blocks of rough fescue grassland are being protected in southern Alberta and in the Whaleback region south of Longview.

Thanks to the efforts of the Prairie Conservation Forum, rough fescue was designated Alberta’s official grass in 2003.

Rough fescue in the Rumsey Ecological Reserve
Rough fescue in the Rumsey Ecological Reserve | J. Hildebrand | Alberta Wilderness Association

Common but Overlooked – Our Provincial Tree 

Lodgepole pine are so commonplace in our forests that most of us don’t give them a second thought. 

Yet lodgepole pine forms the forest home for countless species, from barred owls and pileated woodpeckers to pine martens and wolverines. 

In the early 1900s, the tree was used mostly to make railway ties. 

Today, the forest sector churns this tree into poles, posts, pulp, plywood, and other products. 

Indigenous cultures made fragrant lodgepole pine tea, an excellent source of Vitamin C, which was important in curing or preventing scurvy. Some tribes also used the tea as a contraceptive.

As the name implies, these trees were used as poles to support lodges and teepees.

Lodgepole pine resin was used to waterproof canoes, baskets, and moccasins and as a natural glue.

Lodgepole pine became our official tree in 1984, following a push by the Junior Forest Wardens of Alberta.

Lodgepole pine female cone and bark
Lodgepole pine female cone and bark | Parks Canada | Utah State University

The Kids Have Spoken – Our Provincial Bird

The children spoke, and the province listened.

In 1977, the great horned owl was adopted as Alberta’s official bird after a provincewide children’s vote (maybe kids should get the political vote for their acumen.) 

When clenched, a great horned owl’s strong talons require a force of 28 pounds to open. The owls use this deadly grip to sever the spine of large prey.

This winged predator can be seen year-round in the province. It hunts many animals, from snakes and frogs to mice, and has even taken pets. 

So keep an eye on your kitty and lap dogs. 

Great horned owls will even take down ducks, osprey, hawks, and other birds.

Probably an apt bird for our province – don’t mess with us, or we’ll take you down! 

Great horned owls are fierce predators
Great horned owls are fierce predators | jaypierstorffphoto

Entering With A Bang – Our Provincial Mammal

No animal says the Rockies, as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep do. 

This majestic, curved horn mountain climbing ungulate was designated the province’s official mammal in 1989. 

Prehistoric remains in river valleys across Alberta show that some of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep once roamed across the province. 

Today, bighorns are found mostly in the foothills and the big mountains from Waterton Glacier National Park north to Willmore Wilderness Provincial Park. 

Famous for their head-cracking territorial contests, where males spar by butting heads every fall, these animals are no shrinking violets.

In the fall, don’t get your car between a big ram and his harem of ewes; you may learn firsthand what it means to drive a ‘ram’ pickup.

Bighorn sheep in a head-crashing contest in Jasper National Park | John E. Marriott
Bighorn sheep in a head-crashing contest over Talbot Lake in Jasper National Park | John E. Marriott

Bullish But Threatened – Our Provincial Fish 

The bull trout was named the official fish of Alberta in 1995.

This species is found in all river systems with headwaters in the mountains.

Bull trout prey on other fishes, especially mountain whitefish, and eat insects and aquatic crustaceans.

One of eight species of trout found in the province, the bull trout is a threatened species under the Alberta Wildlife Act and has been severely affected by overfishing, logging, and mining.

Bull trout grow slowly in their preferred cold and clear water and don’t spawn until around five years old, later than the other trout species. This makes them more susceptible to stream disturbances. 

If you are into fishing, it’s catch-and-release only for all bull trout fishing in the province.

The province has a bull trout recovery plan, but it won’t succeed unless we protect mountain headwater streams.

A bull trout in a clear mountain stream | L. Peterson
A bull trout in a clear mountain stream | L. Peterson |

A Rainbow of Colours – Our Provincial Gemstone

Who knew Alberta had an official gemstone? 

We sure didn’t. 

In 2022, ammolite was given the honour. 

Found almost exclusively in southern Alberta, ammolite comes from the fossilized shells of ammonites, a shellfish that populated the oceans between 145 million and 65 million years ago. 

After sinking to the bottom of an inland sea, this mollusc was covered by layers of sediment that hardened over millions of years. 

The shell properties and southern Alberta’s unique geology transformed many ammonite shells into the highly prized iridescent gemstone ammolite.

Ammolite in a fully preserved ammonite
Ammolite in a fully preserved ammonite |

Still Stumped? – Our Provincial Stone

Petrified wood, which has turned into rock, became Alberta’s official stone in 1977. 

It’s commonly found and is formed due to microcrystalline quartz deposits in the pores and cells of fallen trees, some of which dropped as long as 90 million years ago. 

So dig around in an abandoned gravel pit, where petrified wood is most commonly found, and find a chunk for your mantelpiece.

Maybe a little smaller than the one shown below!

A large petrified wood stump recovered from the Athabasca River in 2012
A large petrified wood stump recovered from the Athabasca River in 2012 |  Royal Alberta Museum

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