April 2019 Plant of the Month: Iris

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Tennessee’s Official Cultivated Flower, Iris Brings a Rainbow of Colors to Spring Landscapes

UT Gardens’ April 2019 Plant of the Month: Iris

Submitted by Andy Pulte, UT Department of Plant Sciences

In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow; she was a messenger who brought an arc of color to the sky. In our gardens, the blooms of the iris bring a rainbow of color to our landscape. It doesn’t matter if you live on a country road or on a downtown street; iris are plants that catch your eye when in bloom. For most of Tennessee and the Mid-South this begins in April and persists through May with other iris blooming later in the season. By mid-April, the largest flush of bearded iris flowers are taking center stage in most gardens.

There are 200-plus species of iris including some North American natives. Species are separated into two main groups – rhizomatous and bulbous. Bulbous irises form a more typical bulb and include Persian, reticulate and many dwarf irises. Rhizomes are underground stems that grow horizontally and are used as storage for the plant. Bearded iris falls into this group as do both the Japanese and Siberian iris.
The Iris, genus Iridaceae, is the official state cultivated flower of Tennessee. While iris come in several different colors, the act naming the iris as the state flower did not name a particular color. However, by common acceptance, the purple iris is considered the state cultivated flower.

If you love and enjoy iris you may consider having a succession of iris bloom in your garden comprised of several different species. This could begin with Iris reticulata a small bulbus iris, followed by a dwarf bearded iris like ‘little sighs.’ Next, add classic tall bearded iris to your garden. There are many to choose from, ‘Team Player’ and ‘Gypsy Lord’ are two of my favorites. Follow this up with a Siberian iris like ‘Caesar’s Brother’ and Iris tectorum, the Japanese roof iris. 

If you like iris, why not get involved with one of the many iris societies we have right here in Tennessee? These can be great ways to meet new gardening friends, share knowledge and gain insight into gardening in your specific region of the state. There are iris societies in neighboring states as well. To get more information, simply search the internet for any of these iris gardening groups. Or visit the website of the American Iris Society at www.irises.org.

  • East Tennessee Iris Society – Knoxville 
  • Iris Society of America’s 1st Frontier – Greeneville 
  • Jackson Area Iris Society – Dyersburg 
  • Memphis Area Iris Society Loop – Mason 
  • Middle Tennessee Iris Society – Nashville
  • Mid-State Iris Association – Chapell Hill 
  • Parisian Iris And Daylily Club – Paris 
  • Southeast Tennessee Iris Society – Signal Mountain 
  • Twin States Iris Society – Dixon Springs
  • West Tennessee Iris Society – Memphis 

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Jackson and Crossville. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the Gardens website: ag.tennessee.edu/utg.


Andy Pulte, UT Department of Plant Sciences, 865-974-8820