Tennessee is known for its music and rich cultural heritage but is also home to a beautiful array of wildflowers. With rolling hills, valleys, plateaus, and the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee provides impressive landscapes that are painted with various colors when the wildflowers are in bloom. This article shows you twelve species of wildflowers you can find in Tennessee.
13 Common Wildflowers in Tennessee
Tennessee boasts a rich floral tapestry that includes two official state wildflowers. The Passion Flower, or maypop as it’s also known, is cherished for its intricate structure and beauty. This bloom graces the southern part of the state, its origins traced back to the local indigenous people who valued it as one of their most beautiful flowers.
The second official wildflower, the Tennessee Coneflower, is a conservation success story. Thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the late 1960s, it has since bounced back due to dedicated conservation efforts and now adds its charm to the limestone and cedar glades of Middle Tennessee.
In addition to these wildflowers, Tennessee also recognizes the Iris as its official cultivated flower, typically seen in its vibrant purple hue.
Beyond these, Tennessee is adorned with other wildflowers throughout the year. Spring ushers in a display of Virginia Bluebells and Spring Beauties. Come summer, the landscapes burst with the vivid colors of Cardinal Flowers and Black-eyed Susans.
The fall season welcomes the Goldenrods and New England Asters, adding their touch to the state’s scenic beauty. Each of these blooms contributes to the diverse natural allure of Tennessee.
1. Black-eyed Susan
Scientific Name: Rudbeckia hirta
The vibrant and cheerful black-eyed Susans in Tennessee showcase golden-yellow petals and prominent dark brown centers. The center resembles a dark eye, where the flower gets its name. This wildflower blooms from mid-spring throughout the summer in Tennessee and is attractive to a variety of pollinators like bees and butterflies.
2. Butterfly weed
Scientific Name: Asclepias tuberosa
Also known as orange milkweed, butterfly weed is a perennial wildflower that blooms in the summer. It has bright orange flowers that are not just for show.
Butterfly weed is an important part of Tennessee’s ecosystem, providing an essential food source for Monarch butterflies. Without it, the life cycle of that butterfly species would suffer.
3. Purple Coneflower – state wildflower
Scientific Name: Echinacea purpurea
The purple coneflower grows in meadows, gardens, and prairies in Tennessee. Its distinctive pink to purple petals surround the cone-shaped center. Known for its medicinal properties, this coneflower has been traditionally used for its immune-boosting and healing qualities.
For 32 years, this wildflower species was on the US Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered Species list. Conservation efforts paid off, and the flower was removed from the list in 2011. It can continue to be a beautiful part of Tennessee’s landscapes and provide sustenance for a variety of butterflies.
4. Wild Bergamot
Scientific Name: Monarda fistulosa
Wild bergamot belongs to the mint family. It is one of the most widely distributed native wildflowers in North America, growing in almost every state, including Tennessee.
The flowers of this plant are between 1 and 3 inches wide and can be pink or light purple. These beautiful blooms appear in mid-summer and are very attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths, which makes this species popular with gardeners.
5. Queen Anne’s lace
Scientific Name: Daucus carota
Also known as wild carrot, Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial plant, meaning it flowers after two years of growth. This plant usually blooms from spring to early fall, and its flowers are known for their intricate pattern that resembles delicate lace. While this wildflower species is not poisonous, it looks like other poisonous plants like poison hemlock and giant hogweed.
One way to differentiate this flower from its poisonous look-alikes is to look for the dark purple flower in the center. The plant’s other flowers are white, but a lone purple flower in the middle identifies it as Queen Anne’s lace.
6. Cardinal Flower
Scientific Name: Lobelia cardinalis
Blooming from July to September, the cardinal flower is a vibrant and fiery red flower found in marshes and other wet habitats around Tennessee. This perennial wildflower features tall spikes of vibrant red blossoms that can grow up to 5 feet tall.
Some people mistakenly think the flower gets its name from the red bird of the same name, but it actually got its name from the red robes the Cardinals in the Catholic church wear.
7. Eastern Red Columbine
Scientific Name: Aquilegia canadensis
In Tennessee, the Eastern red columbine is one of the first flowers to appear when winter ends, emerging in March. This native perennial wildflower has unique, bright red, bell-shaped flowers with contrasting yellow centers.
The delicate blossoms hang from slender stems, reminiscent of fairy lanterns. Eastern red columbine grows between 1 and 4 inches tall. Its name means “dove,” and if you look at the flowers closely, they look like a group of doves huddled together.
8. Blue Vervain
Scientific Name: Verbena hastata
Also known as American vervain, blue vervain is a perennial wildflower with pink and purple flowers growing atop slender spikes that can be up to 5 feet tall. This flower thrives near water and can be found in marshes and on riverbanks throughout Tennessee.
Historically, blue vervain has been used by Native Americans and Romans for its medicinal properties. Today, it is still used by herbalists for its health benefits.
9. Indian Paintbrush
Scientific Name: Castilleja coccinea
Also called a painted cup, the Indian paintbrush is a colorful wildflower in Tennessee. When you look at this flower, you might think the petals are green with bright red tips that look like they have been dipped in paint. However, these aren’t the flowers of the plant.
These brightly colored plant parts are called bracts, which are actually leaves. The flowers of this plant are small and inconspicuous compared to the vibrant bracts. Either way, the Indian paintbrush is a striking wildflower that is sure to capture your attention.
10. Wild Geranium
Scientific Name: Geranium maculatum
Wild geranium is a perennial wildflower featuring delicate, five-petaled flowers in shades of pink to lavender, often with distinctive dark purple veins. These plants grow between 12 and 18 inches tall. Found in woodlands, meadows, and along stream banks, this resilient wildflower thrives in shady, moist environments.
11. Tall Ironweed
Scientific Name: Vernonia gigantea
Tall ironweed is a tall wildflower belonging to the sunflower family that can be found in moist habitats throughout Tennessee. These plants can grow up to 10 feet tall and feature branches that spread out from the top of the stalk.
Each branch can have between 13 and 30 purple flowers. This wildflower attracts a variety of pollinators, including butterflies and bees, with its nectar-rich blooms.
12. Purple Phacelia
Scientific Name: Phacelia bipinnatifida
Also known as fern leaf phacelia or scorpionweed, purple phacelia is a biennial wildflower found in the woodlands of Tennessee. These plants grow up to 2 feet tall and feature clusters of small, bell-shaped flowers in shades of deep purple or violet on hairy stems.
13. Purple Passionflower
Scientific Name: Passiflora incarnata
The Passion Flower, also known as maypop, is a sight to behold in the southern parts of Tennessee. This wildflower features a unique structure with intricate details, crowned by a ring of wavy lavender petals. Its beauty is undeniable, and its fruits – small, egg-shaped maypops – are a delightful sight in late summer.
What makes this flower even more special is its history. The indigenous people of the region considered the Passion Flower to be one of the most beautiful and abundant flowers. It continues to enchant locals and visitors alike with its curiously constructed flower and the symbolism attached to it.
As an official state wildflower of Tennessee, the Passion Flower adds a touch of elegance and intrigue to the state’s diverse landscapes. Plus, it’s a favorite among butterflies, providing a vital source of nourishment for these charming insects.
Where and When to See Common Wildflowers in Tennessee
The best time to see wildflowers in Tennessee varies throughout the year and depends on the specific species. In spring months, like April and May, you can find an array of wildflowers in forests, meadows, and open fields across the state. They burst into life with blooms from black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers.
As summer approaches, wildflowers such as butterfly weed, cardinal flowers, and Queen Anne’s lace start to bloom. For optimal wildflower viewing, check out Tennessee’s state parks, nature preserves, and hiking trails. These places offer diverse habitats and provide opportunities to explore the breathtaking beauty of Tennessee’s wildflowers.