The MADS transcription factors (TF) are an ancient protein family with a high degree of sequence identity that bind almost identical DNA sequences across all eukaryotic kingdoms of life, yet fulfill dramatically different physiological roles. In plants, the family is divided into two main lineages, type I and II, based on sequence conservation of the DNA-binding MADS-box domain (M domain) with yeast and animal M domains. Here, we demonstrate that DNA binding in both lineages absolutely requires a short amino acid sequence C-terminal to the M domain called the Intervening domain (I domain) in type II MADS. Structural elucidation of the MI domains from the floral regulator, SEPALLATA3 (SEP3), shows a highly conserved MADS-box fold with the I domain forming an alpha helix and acting to stabilize the M domain. Based on secondary structure prediction, sequences fulfilling the same function as the SEP3 I domain can be found in both lineages of plant MADS TFs, suggesting the I domain is a conserved and required part of the DNA-binding domain. Using the floral organ identity MADS TFs, SEP3, APETALA1 (AP1) and AGAMOUS (AG), domain swapping demonstrate that the I domain alters DNA-binding specificity based on seq-DAP-seq experiments. Yeast 2-hybrid experiments further revealed the role of the I domain in dimerization specificity. Surprisingly, introducing AG carrying the I domain of AP1 in the Arabidopsis ap1 mutant, resulted in a high degree of complementation and restoration of first and second whorl organs. Taken together, these data demonstrate that the I domain acts both as an integral part of the DNA-binding domain and strongly contributes to the functional identity of the MADS TF.