What’s in a Name: Gracchus

(author uncredited)

Finding the name source for those cultivars whose creator is still with us is easy — just ask! Uncovering the story behind the iris names of hybridizers who have transitioned to the ‘seedling patch in the beyond’ is another matter. Certainty is not in it but a good case for a name source can be built, and the search is interesting and often educational.

gracchusGracchus (Ware 1884) falls into the above category. It has long fascinated me — a rebloomer, and a survivor from the 1925 AIS Blacklist. Gracchus appeared as if it couid have been taken from a Latin surname and considering the intense grounding in Latin that mid 19th century British school boys endured, Ware could well have named this plucky little variegata after a heroic figure from Roman history. Encyclopaedia Britannica provided enlightenment with at least half a dozen entries under the heading ‘Gracchus.’

gracchusAlmost certainly two brothers, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (163-133 B.C.) and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (153-121 B.C.), provided the inspiration for Ware’s iris name. They were Roman statesman, serving as tribunes, and worked hard for agrarian reform, wealth redistribution, citizenship rights and other desperately needed reforms during a period of anarchy after the second Punic war.

gracchusPolitics was a rougher sport in that era than it is now and both brothers were assassinated by thugs hired by the conservative elements of the Roman Senate. The iris Gracchus survived similar attempts to ensure its demise but unlike the Brothers Gracchus, is alive and flourishing today.

“…the iris is no longer an ideal, hardy perennial but has now reached the status of a specialist’s flower” — Dr. Lloyd Zurbrigg: report to AIS Region 4 Board. One response to dispel this widely held belief is an interesting breeding project initiated by Bob Schreincr and now being carried on by Ray. This project is an attempt to reintroduce hardiness, disease resistance and vigor to modern bearded iris using Gracchus as the foundation stock.

Reprinted from ROOTS, Vol. 13 Issue 1, Fall 2000
Photos of Gracchus ©SDT