Monday, March 2, 2009

Tall Bearded Historic Iris "GRACCHUS "

Purchased from Otepopo Garden Nursery (see later in the article), the photo above is of the Iris 'Gracchus' reblooming over by the Woolshed last month.One of the earliest known cultivars that rebloom in mild climates and bred well before the use of middle eastern tetraploids were introduced to Iris breeding.
W.R. Dykes in 'The Gardener's Chronicle' November 5th, 1910, observed " Last year I remember that the variegata GRACCHUS flowered most freely in October"

The Iris is listed in the 1929 AIS checklist GRACCHUS TB-Y9L (Ware 1884) F.C.C 1885.
At the time the editors of the checklist used garden catalogues for information regarding early originator's, or who listed the cultivars in commerce.(This applies for entries prior to dates when registration forms were used by hybridisers to establish breeding facts).

So with this in mind there can be no surprise that Amos Perry writes in the BIS yearbook 1946, 'Past Present, and Future' page 110, "My father had always been very keen on Irises. He raised GRACCHUS which received a First Class Certificate R.H.S.on 9th June, 1885. (It was also Highly Commended R.H.S 2nd June 1916)
Amos Perry joined his father working at Thomas S. Ware and was apprenticed to the firm at Tottenham in 1885. Also of interest from the same article, "In those days the germanica Irises were grown largely for the Covent Garden Market, and about twenty acres of them were grown each year. I can well remember the tedium of cutting, piling the spikes at the end of the beds, bunching them in dozens, and packing them for transit."
"The market favourites were Florentina, Pallida dalmatica, GRACCHUS and VICTORINE."

Nairn and Sons Lincoln Road Christchurch has one of the earliest New Zealand listings for GRACCHUS in their 1892-93 Plant Catalogue, and is also listed in the above 1901-02 edition

Nicholas Moore in his 1956 book, "Tall Bearded Iris"
 In the late Nineteenth Century, Robert Parker, Thomas Ware and others were making deliberate crosses in an effort to raise improved varieties of iris, and some irises of this time such as Ware's 'GRACCHUS' and Lemon's 'CHEREAU' still survive, though they scarcely seem now the wonders that they were in their own day.

Historic Iris Preservation Society 'Roots', Fall 2000 page 19.
"An interesting breeding project initiated by Bob Schreiner and now being carried on by Ray.This project is an attempt to reintroduce hardiness disease resistance and vigour to modern bearded iris using Gracchus as the foundation stock"

Gracchus (Ware) The sensation of a past generation F.C.C. 1885
Photo courtesy 'IRISES Their culture and selection' Gwendolyn Anley 1946

Kelway's Hardy Perennials and Colour Borders 1929/30 page 37
Gracchus standards primrose yellow, falls primrose veined and reticulated crimson 9d each

Schreiners Catalogue 2008
You will sense Gracchus' irrepressible spirit. Its arched standards are cleanly finished in medium yellow. The flared white falls are heavily overlaid with deep violet veinations. These pert and charming flowers are produced in abundance, as it often yields multiple stems per root.

'The Iris', John C. Wister, 1930 Page 114. 
'Gracchus' had been entered on his version of the Black List. There were several of these 'Black Lists', even an official list published by The American Iris Society in 1928, which was headed " the following varieties of Tall Bearded Irises are considered as unworthy of further propagation. All members should refrain from assisting in their dissemination whether by purchase, by sale, by exchange, or by gift".
Thank God a few took no notice otherwise this stand out Iris would not be around today.

Listed In The Otepopo Garden Nursery Catalogue Spring 2001
GRACCHUS (Ware 1884)
There is some confusion about this iris as discussed in NZIS bullietins 145, 146. But whether it is a TB or a MTB, whether it is correctly named or not, it is a great garden iris flowering for a long time during the season and always fresh and attractive. Standards bright yellow. Falls strongly veined reddish. Height 75cm.

Bloom pictured above was from the plant purchased from this supplier, and a modicum of quality research would have immediately discounted the confusion as to whether this iris is in fact 'Gracchus' or that it could be as it some times labeled in New Zealand 'Gajus'.
'GAJUS TB Y9M' is well documented as having Purple Bottom Foliage (PBF) and Gracchus does not show this trait, also the fall colour of Gajus is classified as been confluent.
As to the discussion on whether the iris is a TB or MTB is also not a runner. MTB first became a classification in the 1959 AIS Checklist so GRACCHUS would not be eligible for this classification.
As the Iris was first listed in the AIS Alphabetical Iris Check List 1929 page 121 we should take the time and refer to the definition of the classification in the 1929 Checklist page 4: TB Tall Bearded Section. Species, forms and hybrids of Iris germanica, pallida, variegata, trojana, cypriana, and other tall species'
The only conclusion one can arrive at is that 'GRACCHUS' is correctly classified as a TB for the period it was listed.
This is probably a great example how Irises can become entrenched in the system with the wrong ID. Whist the writer of the catalogue does acknowledge that the iris label is contentious yet carries on selling the iris as a named variety, fortunately for all purchasers it turned out to be the correct name.

In America it is listed in the following catalogues, Schreiner's Iris Gardens,Newport Naturals, and listed with Seagate Irises in the United Kingdom

As always clicking on the above image will take you to the larger, higher resolution version. Reproduction in whole or in part of this post, its opinions or its images without the expressed written permission of Terry Johnson is strictly prohibited. Photo credit and copyright Terry Johnson and Heritage Irises ©.


  1. In my garden I don't have Gracchus, but I have similar historic iris : Loreley and Nibelungen, and many of the visitors of my garden love them.

  2. Hi Jean-Luc
    We have Loreley growing here plus many other Variegata varieties which at the moment are yet to be ID.You should also like to visit the post on the bog Iris variegata 'var.Reginae',
    Like your blog
    Thanks for your comment

  3. these flowers are marvelous!!!!!

  4. This is a really great garden plant. Although a sucker for the big and blowsy, this has a real charm and seems to wink cheekily at you as you pass. Although the flowers are small and old fashioned everything is in proportion and it makes a great clump, packed with flowers. I first grew it when i was establishing a historic collection at Myddelton House in North London and replanted it a stone's throw from the home of France Perry and not far from the Perry nursery so it is nice that it came home


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