Flower Spotlight: Glamorous Gladiolus

Flower Spotlight: Glamorous Gladiolus

Picture this: you’re in the amphitheater of Rome’s Colosseum in its heyday. Looking up, you see the crowd cheering in an uncontrollable frenzy. After intense battles, you’re the last one standing. Members of the audience throw at you, with all their might, spear-shaped flowers of every color. You collect a few and thrust them into the air in victory. Yours is the right to live another day.

How did gladiolus get their name?

As you might have already guessed, these flowers were gladiolus, more commonly known as “sword lilies” although this vernacular name can be a little misleading. They actually belong to the iris family. They got their name from the Latin gladius, meaning sword. Given their long and imposing shape, and their close ties with history’s fiercest warriors, these perennial flowers symbolize courage, strength, and pride.

Southern and tropical Africa is the native home of the gladiolus, and where the most diversity in the cultivars can be found. Nevertheless, there are varieties that have successfully adapted to the natural terrain of the Mediterranean and of south-east Asia, where they can be found in the wild.

Can gladiolus be kept as garden flowers?

Emerging from their underground corm, gladiola plants produce one to nine non-branched sword-shaped leaves that guard at its center spikes that unilaterally produce gorgeous 3 inch funnel-shaped flowers of varying colors, ranging from white to orange or purple; plain or with special patterns or markings. But don’t be fooled by their beauty. These flowers are low maintenance, requiring only a few hours of sunlight, and their soil remains moist during the growing season. They are extremely hardy: some varieties are resistant to rough winters of up to -15 degrees. If you decide to dig up the gladiolus corms just to be on the safe side, do so in the autumn after the leaves have died out, and replant them in the early spring for best results.

The corms produce smaller cormlets over time. Occasionally, divide these clumps while the corm is dormant to keep the plants vigorous. The smaller corms can be planted the following season, but it may take a while for them to reach maturity and start producing flowers.

What about gladiolus as cut-flowers?

They also make impressive cut-flowers for centerpieces or elegant bouquets when paired with dahlias and peonies, but a word of warning: they can be toxic to your dog, cat, or horse companions.

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By V. M. Pierluisi

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