Tennessee has two official flowers: the purple passionflower (the official state wildflower) and the iris (the official state cultivated flower). In 1919, the state's senate passed a resolution making the passionflower their official floral emblem. Fourteen years later, however, the state's legislature took the position that the passionflower was never officially adopted and made the iris the state flower in 1933. Criticism from passionflower advocates and arguments between the two sides lasted for 40 years until the legislature compromised and decided to have two state flowers instead.
The flower of the iris comes in virtually every color and color combination, except red. It has three outer petals and three inner petals, the latter usually standing upright. Green or variegated leaves surround the flower, and the entire plant can grow as short as a few inches or as tall as 6 feet.
While growing on a vine, the purple passionflower produces pale lavender or white flowers with five petals and five sepals. Stringy white or lavender elements emerge from the center of the flower on top of the petals.
The iris flower's habitat varies greatly and can be found naturally in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and northern Africa. Some species grow in deserts, others in swamps, and still others in cold or more temperate climates.
The purple passionflower commonly grows in fields, by roadsides, on rocky slopes, along fences and in thin woodland areas and thickets.
The iris forms from a rhizome or bulb in late spring to fall in zones 3 through 9 (Tennessee is in parts of zones 6 and 7). It needs well-drained loamy soil and exposure to full sun or filtered shade. The soil should have a slightly alkaline to neutral pH, but the soil's moisture depends on the species of the plant.
Plant the purple passionflower in hardiness zones 6 through 10 with exposure to full sun. It prefers fertile, well-drained soil with a mildly acidic to mildly alkaline pH and regular watering.
Disease and Pests
Animals don't tend to interfere with the iris much. However, fungal leaf diseases (like leaf spot) and weevils, thrips, aphids, borers and nematodes may give the plant problems.
Spider mites, white flies and scale insects occasionally like calling the purple passionflower home. Leaf spots and chlorosis (entire leaves or areas around leaf veins appearing yellow due to lack of iron in the soil) may also affect this plant.
Meanings and Alternate Names
The iris, sometimes called "flag" in North America, symbolizes faith and wisdom.
The purple passionflower lives up to its name, symbolizing passion in general and the passion of the Christ to Christians in particular. It also goes by the names wild passionflower, passion vine, apricot vine, maypop, maracock and Holy-Trinity flower.