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Tennessee Flower Identification

purple cone flowers image by hazel proudlove from

The flowers of Tennessee, like the state itself, represent a diverse array of plants at home in woodland, prairie and mountainous areas. Some flowers are commonly featured in home gardens throughout Tennessee, and others are endangered and found only in limited areas. In the mountainous part of the state, plants must be able to withstand possible temperatures of -10 degrees. In West Tennessee, plants have to tolerate unpredictable winter weather with frequent fluctuations from warm to freezing and then take the unrelenting summer heat with temperatures close to 100 degrees.

Passion Flower

In 1919, Tennessee schoolchildren selected the passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) as the state flower. In the legend of the passion flower, a Jesuit priest likened the five petals and the five sepals to the 10 apostles with the three pistils representing the nails on the cross and the striking purple fringed corona representing the crown of thorns. The blooms have an exotic appearance, and the vine is a host plant for the Fritillary butterfly. The vine is also called the Maypop because of its hollow yellow fruits.


In 1933, Tennessee named the iris the state flower even though the passion flower had been so-designated 1919. The resulting controversy ended 1973, when the Tennessee legislature designated the passion flower the state wildflower and the iris the state cultivated flower. Of the hundreds of species of iris, the bearded purple iris is the one commonly accepted as the Tennessee cultivated state flower. It has thick sword-like leaves and grows from rhizomes barely covered with dirt. The iris is a very tough perennial that can survive in neglected circumstances in a variety of environmental conditions. The French fleur de lis was patterned after the iris bloom.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

This hydrangea features leaves that resemble those of oak trees and has panicle-shaped blooms of white flowers that change colors as they age. Used extensively in shade gardens in the South, the leaves of the oakleaf hydrangea take on dramatic shades of red in the fall, and its stately blooms dry and can stay on the shrubs throughout the winter.

Tennessee Cone Flower

The Tennessee Cone Flower, Echinacea tennesseensis, is a perennial wildflower found only in cedar glades in three counties in the Tennessee Central Basin. It was the first plant in Tennessee to be designated a Federal Endangered Species and was thought to have been extinct until 1968, when it was once again found growing in the wild. It is similar to the readily available Echinacea purpurea except that it is less hardy and features slightly upturned pink petals. A few growers offer a nursery-propagated Echinacea tennesseensis called "Rocky Top," but this aggressive variety crowds out other varieties of cone flowers.

Wild Columbine

Delicate red and yellow nodding flowers with curved spurs dangle from the lacy, fern-like foliage of the wild columbine. Hummingbirds pollinate this flower, but butterflies and bees are also attracted to it. Native Americans used the plant and its roots to treat headaches and digestive problems. Although this plant is a perennial, it is short-lived and frequently propagates by self-sowing from seed.

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