Why Aren't All State Flowers Native Flowers?
Updated: Mar 22
In my quest to learn every little thing I could about passionflower vine, I found out the state flower of Tennessee is non-native iris but Tennessee also has two state wildflowers: passionflower (passiflora incarnata) and Tennessee echinacea (echinacea tennesseensis) After more digging I learned only 37 of the state flowers are native to their state, along with some sad data points about how little we currently value native plants.
The state flower of my home state of Georgia, which has a rich biodiversity of stunning native plants, is the non-native Cherokee rose, which is native to China. Our state wildflower is native azalea, but my vote would be to make the rare and eye-catching Georgia aster (symphyotrichum georgianum) the official state native flower.
Native violets are the state flower in four states, yet the same charming violets are one of the most common lawn “weeds” herbicide products are designed to target and kill. This means in four states the native state flower is considered a worthless weed by the millions of homeowners who eliminate it from their non-native grass lawn!
A handful, but not all states with non-native state flowers have an official state wildflower or state native flower. In other words some state don't even acknowledge native flowers at all!`(Click here to see the official state flower categories and here for a list about where each state flower is native to)
We need to rethink why we still sentimentally idolize non-native flowers over our lovely native flowers when non-natives offer so little value and even harm native habitats and native plants by contrast help restore healthy ecosystems. Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil condition where they naturally occur, so it makes even more sense for states to profile geographically special plants over exotic plants that aren’t particularly unique because they can grow pretty much anywhere.
The awful, generic wildflower mixes which often have non-native plants considered invasive in them such as bachelor’s buttons, Queen Anne’s lace and toadflax, contribute to the confusion and overuse of the term wildflower. Replacing the term state wildflower with state native flower would be more precise and encourage the use of native plants in the landscape.
As the native plant movement gains traction, what a powerful message it would be if all states adopted an official native flower to honor the valuable plants that support a healthier environment by adding biodiversity, using less natural resources such as water to exist, and providing habitat, shelter and food for local wildlife!