In 1933, Tennessee's legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution No. 53 making the iris the state cultivated flower. The iris is a general name for any number of species in the Iris group in the family Iridaceae. Although the state legislature did not specify any particular species or color of iris as the official cultivated flower, Tennesseeans generally regard any purple-colored iris as the state's emblem. The German or bearded iris is grown by gardeners across the state.
Iris, also the botanical name, is a group of plants native to a wide range of habitats all across the Northern Hemisphere. Most plants are deciduous, losing their fans of leaves in autumn and regrowing them with the return of spring warmth. They grow either from bulbs, such as Japanese irises (Iris retriculata), or more commonly from a swollen, fleshy underground stem called a rhizome, as with the bearded iris, Louisiana and Siberian irises.
The iris blossom, referred to as the fleur-de-lis in French, is a showy collection of flower parts. There are always three large petals that are either pendent, reflexed or fully spreading and are called the "falls." An additional three petals are referred to as the "standards" and often are slightly smaller than the falls but are held erect or horizontally with prominence.
In the center of the flower is a three-part style, or female floral part. On the falls, there is often a fuzzy collection of male stamens at the base of the style or cascading down as a "beard" on the falls.
Iris species come in a vast array of flower colors, most having multiple colors among the petals and between the male and female floral parts. Typically, wild species of iris bloom with flowers in the range of purple and blue-violet to white with accents of yellow. However, hybridization by man over centuries has found iris varieties that can be fully orange or yellow, baby blue, light green, blackish purple, and red-orange. A pure red color is elusive to achieve in irises, but iris enthusiasts continue to attempt to form a perfectly red iris for the marketplace.
Although there is variation among the species and hybrid varieties of iris in their perfect growing conditions, there are many general guidelines. Plant iris in well-draining, fertile soils that range in pH from slightly acidic and neutral to lightly alkaline (pH range of 6.0 to 8.0). Full sun exposure is best, although light or dappled shade in the heat of the afternoon is acceptable. Transplant iris bulbs and rhizomes in midsummer to early autumn after all spring or early summertime flowering has completed.
There are irritants in the juices of all iris plants. Sap on the skin can cause a rash or urge to satisfy an itch in some people. Avoid ingesting any part of an iris, as it will cause severe stomach ache or sharp pain.
Dual State Flower Status
Although the Tennessee legislature mandated the iris as a state flower in 1933, realize it is specifically the state cultivated non-native flower that is grown in gardens. The state wildflower of Tennessee was designated in 1919 and is the purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata. Other local names include the may-pop, ocoee and flowering apricot.