Tennessee’s State Flower: The Iris


The state cultivated flower of Tennessee is brimming with charm. The iris plant comes in so many colors; its namesake is the Greek goddess of rainbows! The iris itself is a broad term that encompasses around 300 species of flowers. There are many different varieties of iris: bearded, Siberian, Japanese, Louisiana, and Dutch. The iris is a beautiful addition to any garden, but certain needs must be met in order to maintain a healthy plant.

Irises come in many forms. All flowers have six petals; three petals face downward (called “falls”), and the other petals stand upright (called “standards”). These petals can be white, dark red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, lavender, blue, or brown. Some plants showcase multiple colors, and others have patterns on their petals. The iris’ green foliage is swordlike and grows from a rhizome, a bulb-like root called an “orris root”. Irises come in different sizes: dwarf, intermediate, or tall. Some irises are only 6 to 12 inches tall, while others can be 2 feet tall. An iris can be bearded or crested (beardless). Bearded irises have soft hairs in the center of their falls; hairs form a ridge with crested irises.


These beautiful flowers have been famous worldwide for many years. In ancient times, India and Egypt used the iris’ rhizome for medicinal purposes and perfume trade to please their gods. Dried iris rhizomes became useful in Florence, Italy, during the 1800s. Germans hung orris roots in barrels of beer to keep the drink fresh. These flowers also caught the eyes of many artists. Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch artist, created the painting “Irises”. It showcases the beauty of the violet flowers. 



Today, irises can be made into essential oils for sedative use in aromatherapy. Orris root can be used in purifying the body due to its properties. Do not eat the iris! It can cause severe discomfort if ingested.


Irises provide a rainbow of color to any landscape. These are considered easy plants to grow, but not all conditions will be suitable. The iris prefers full sun, but a half-day of sun exposure will often suffice. An iris planted in shade may survive; however, it will not flower. 

Iris plants grow best in neutral to slightly acidic soil, and the soil must be well-drained. A phrase to follow is “wet feet, dry knees”. When planting an iris, expose some of the rhizome to the elements. It is important that the rhizome dries quickly.

After planting, irises need continued care. The plants have low water requirements once established. When flowering season is over, cut the flowering stalk down to ground level. Leave the rest of the foliage until cool weather comes in. Cut away leaves that turn yellow in autumn to prevent disease and pests.

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The iris is a flower of wonder. It was respected and cultivated in ancient times, and it is a plant of admiration in today’s world. The iris can be short or tall, and its sharp foliage is eye-catching in itself. The flowers bloom in many hues; the iris flower provides Earth with a terrestrial rainbow! Irises are low-maintenance plants that need TLC to keep them healthy. The iris flower brightens lives with its striking petals.