“Well, I wish that I was on old Rocky-Top…”

Welcome to my virtual tour of Tennessee wildflowers! If you know anything about Tennessee, you are familiar with “Rocky-Top”. The state song is a mainstay of Country and Blue Grass music as well as a favorite of the University of Tennessee sports fan base. “Deep in the Tennessee Hills” is where we are headed this morning and the state recognizes three flowers as their state symbol – the Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate), the Tennessee Purple Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis), and the Iris – all species.

The first of these, known locally as a Maypop, is a vine with a very curious blossom, a large fruit, and three lobed leaves. It can be found throughout Tennessee and the Southeastern US and into Mexico and South America. The early Spanish explorers when they first encountered this floral curiosity, gave the blossom the name of Passion Flower since the flower parts reminded them of Christ’s Passion. The blossom color is blue or lavender with flecks of white or red and nurserymen have created all red flowers as well as various combinations.

A wild Maypop with its fruit. A tea made from the blossoms is said to help with sleep issues and the fruit is also edible.
Under the right conditions of full sun and adequate moisture, a Passion Flower vine will grow twenty feet in a year, sow its own seeds, and come back in force the next early Spring. In your garden, it must be contained.

The second state wildflower is the Tennessee Purple Coneflower which is endemic only to cedar bogs in Central Tennessee. It is different from the more common Purple Coneflower as the purple rays do not droop but are erect. It was an endangered species until conservation agencies bought its desired habitat and Federal protection prevented it from being picked or displaced. It was removed from an endangered status in 2011 but we still do not want to pick or transplant this species to our gardens from the wild. Seeds are commercially available.

The Tennessee Purple Coneflower is unique to the center third of the state and is a conservation success story.

The Iris has also been designated as the state cultivated flower and I have written about several unique Iris in my coverage of Louisiana and Michigan. There are several varieties of wild Iris in Tennessee and the Dwarf Crested Iris is my favorite.

The Dwarf Crested Iris is an April-May bloomer and can be found in wet areas in the Smoky Mountains and most of Tennessee.

If you know anything about me, you are no doubt familiar with my fascination for the world’s greatest wildflower habitat – the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee and western North Carolina. Here, from March to June, bloom countess varieties of red, purple, yellow, orange, and every other color imaginable wildflowers in almost unending displays. In fact, I have set my New Year’s resolutions and at the top of the list is a week long camping trip in early April as well as a return in early June to be amazed once more of Nature’s wildflower bounty. If you have not seen this display, plan it.

Eastern Columbine and Purple Phacelia are just two of the multitude of flowering explosions in early April.
One last look at a variant of the Passion Flower and its fruit.

Now we journey to Texas and discover that blue is the wildflower color of state choice and find a wildflower conservatory that preserves the tremendous wildflower diversity of the United States.

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