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What Is Tennessee's State Flower?

By April S. Kenyon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state of Tennessee is unique in the fact that it has two state flowers. Tennessee’s state flower is the iris. In addition to the iris, the state also signified the passion flower as its state wildflower. The passion flower was adopted as the state flower in 1919 by local school children. More than a decade later, in 1933, the iris was also designated as Tennessee’s cultivated state flower.

The story behind Tennessee’s two state flowers dates all the way back to the first part of the 20th century. In 1919, school children in Tennessee voted the passion flower as their choice for Tennessee’s state flower, and the Senate Joint Resolution No. 13 recognized the state’s floral emblem, making the passion flower Tennessee’s original state flower. For the next decade, the passion flower was not disputed as the state flower.

In the early 1930s, garden club members and growers of cultivated flowers started to protest that the passion flower was never officially adopted as Tennessee's state flower. They argued that the iris should represent the state instead. In 1933, the Tennessee legislature designated the iris as Tennessee’s state flower, creating quite a stir amongst those individuals who supported the passion flower as Tennessee’s state symbol. Heated debates and criticisms developed over the next 40 years between the two groups. To settle the debate, in 1973, legislation finally declared that the passion flower served as Tennessee’s official wildflower, while the iris was designated the official cultivated state flower of Tennessee.

The passion flower is native to South America and the southern portion of the United States. It is also commonly referred to as the wild apricot, the maypop, and the ocoee, a Native American name for this wildflower. Early Christian missionaries to the area recognized various symbols of the Crucifixion in the flower, such as the crown of thorns, the nails, and the three crosses. They subsequently named the beautiful flower the passion flower, after the Crucifixion.

Approximately 170 different varieties of the iris are cultivated in the United States. The most common North American variety is the Blue Flag, a purple iris. While irises are cultivated in a large assortment of colors, no particular colored variety was designated as the state flower, but it is generally accepted that the purple iris serves as Tennessee’s state flower. One of Tennessee’s state songs is “When it’s Iris Time in Tennessee,” by Willa Waid Newman.

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Discussion Comments

By Oceana — On Jan 14, 2012

@StarJo – I have eaten maypop fruit before. It has a nice tropical flavor, and since it grows wild all over my Tennessee backyard, it is free fruit!

You are not supposed to eat the skin, so you can't just pop it in your mouth straight off the vine. I've always been told to wait until the fruit is yellow and has fallen off the vine.

I take the fruit inside and cut it open with a knife. I slice it right down the middle and spoon out the pulp. It is full of seeds, but they are edible, as well.

Maypops make a nice summer dessert. The fruit will reach maturity in July, so I only get to eat it in the summer.

By orangey03 — On Jan 14, 2012

I moved to Tennessee two years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised to find irises growing on my property. My house is on a hill, and a river runs through the valley below. Next to the river is where the irises grow.

Blue flag irises love moisture. I have even heard of them growing in actual marshes and swamps. Not a whole lot of pretty flowers could survive in such boggy conditions.

Whoever lived there before me must have planted a ton of them, because there is a whole row of bright purple along the river. I don't even have to keep them watered, since the river keeps the ground surrounding it saturated deep down. The best flowers are the kind you don't have to struggle to keep alive.

By seag47 — On Jan 13, 2012

I am from Tennessee, and I have always heard that Nashville residents were the main ones who pushed for the iris to be named the state flower. Many of the richer people who live here today have gorgeous iris gardens, so I guess the fondness for the flower continues.

Some people view the passion flower as a weed, since it springs up without encouragement. My dad tried to yank all the maypops out of his garden, because he said they would compete with the vegetables for precious moisture and space.

I think that both flowers are beautiful, so I have two gardens in my yard. One is in a lightly shaded area and is filled with maypops, while the other is in full sun and features only irises.

By StarJo — On Jan 13, 2012

Tennessee borders my home state of Mississippi, and both of its state flowers are common here, as well. I have never grown irises in my garden, but I have often admired my neighbor's purple and yellow irises. They grow a few feet tall and seem pretty hardy.

I grew up with passion flowers growing wild in my yard. They seemed like something out of a fairy tale, with their wispy curls and bright purple, spiky petals.

My mother told me that she used to eat the fruit of the passion flower. I didn't know it was edible until I had already moved away from home. Has anyone else ever eaten this fruit?

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