Fast Facts

  • Adopted as the Tennessee state cultivated flower in 1933
  • Botanical name: Iris
  • There are over 170 species of irises.
  • Iris trivia: The name iris comes from Greek for rainbow, a reference to the many colors that irises grow in..
  • Tennessee Flower Delivery

In the early 1930s, Tennessee residents were swept up in a wave of gardening. Enthusiastic green thumbs joined garden clubs, discussed native plants, and urged the state legislature to designate a state flower. Lawmakers joined in on the excitement and soon the beautiful iris was tapped as the Tennessee state flower. The trouble was, Tennessee already had a state flower! Fourteen years earlier, in a process overseen by a five-member state commission, the state’s school children had chosen the passion flower as the Tennessee state flower. Not surprisingly, the iris’s new title did not sit well with passion flower enthusiasts who were, well, passionate about their objections. Discontent on both sides of the issue kept the matter in floral limbo for 40 years. It was not until 1973 that the state legislature orchestrated a compromise and named the iris Tennessee’s state cultivated flower and the passion flower the state wildflower.

Iris by Jens Buurgaard NielsenPhoto by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen

Today both flowers are admired throughout the state, but it is the iris that seems to receive more accolades. Iris flowers appear on the Tennessee license plate. They are also the subject of one of the state’s official songs (“When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee.”) And each spring, residents from Chattanooga to Knoxville gather for the state’s annual Iris Festival. The springtime celebration honors the Tennessee state flower with a rodeo, a floral show and coronation of, what else, an Iris queen. There are good reasons that gardeners across the state embraced the iris. The exquisite perennials grow easily here, providing ornamental value and colorful appeal to residents year after year. (While the legislature did not specify a color or particular species in its legislation, the purple iris is widely accepted as the Tennessee state flower.) Tennessee gardeners frequently grow irises to form attractive borders in their gardens, or to enjoy as cut flowers. The flowers grow from potato-like roots called rhizomes or, in drier climates, from bulbs. In springtime, they produce long flowering stems that end in six lobe-shaped petals. Each iris flower consists of three “standard” petals and three downward drooping petals or “falls”. Falls are often marked by colorful, intricate designs in striking colors, giving irises their huge variety and beauty. The popular bearded iris, which grows throughout the state, is marked by a fuzzy line, or beard, running down the middle of these petals. Several hundred types of bearded irises are on display at the botanical gardens in Memphis. The flowers form the delightful Tennessee Bicentennial Iris Garden. How appropriate!

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