Gladiolus: Glads

Family: Iridaceae
Common name: Gladiolus, Glads, Sword lily, Common gladiolus, Garden glad

Gladiolus flowers in flower arrangements look too exotic and expensive to be grown in gardens, but they are quite easy to grow. The plants grow to a height of about 1-1.5 meters with long strappy leaves growing on either side of succulent green stems.

After growing 7-10 leaves, the plants produce long spikes of inflorescence containing 10-20 flowers. There are over 260 species of Gladiolus plants, some of them growing in the wild and some of them produced as a result of extensive hybridization.

Gladiolus stems are weak and need stakes or support to hold the heavy flowers. When grown in the row, it’s a good idea to rest them on a long piece of wire or rope so that all the flowers can lean towards the support.

They are characterized by corms or swollen underground stems that act as storage organs for the plants, and also help the plant to stay dormant in adverse conditions. Corms shoot out new stems, regenerating the plants when favorable conditions return.

Most wild varieties have smaller and less conspicuous flowers. Newer hybrids are made to produce bigger and brighter flowers that last longer when used as cut flowers.

Commonly called Glads, these flowers come in a wide range of colors like white, cream, yellow, pink, orange, purple, red, and a beautiful mix of different colors. They also range in size from miniature flowers that are 5 cms in diameter to large flowers that are about 15 cms in diameter.

Depending on the cultivar, the petals can be plain, ruffled, semi-ruffled, or frilly. The flowers open from bottom to top, with larger flowers towards the bottom. That’s the reason they are cut when the first 5-6 flowers are open. Most plants flower in late spring or summer, and are called ‘summer bulbs’.

Flowers spikes are one-sided, all the flowers opening towards one side, making them ideal for flower arrangements. Sepals and petals are very similar in appearance and merged at the base into tubular structures. They have larger petals towards the upper half, smaller petals towards the bottom, and one large petal protecting the stamens and style.

The 3 main groups of Gladiolus are ‘Grandiflora’ which is the most popular cultivar with large, showy flowers; ‘Nanus’ which are the miniature hybrids; and ‘Primulinus’ which has dainty flowers and narrow leaves.

The most popular cultivars are Gladiolus Black Beauty with its velvety, burgundy flowers with a black tinge; Green Star with lime green-yellow flowers; Peter Pears with peach-colored flowers having a deep pink center; Priscilla which has beautiful frilly white flowers edged with pink, Princess Margaret Rose with yellow-orange blooms that look like they’re on fire; Prins Claus, the miniature variant having white petals with pink splotches; and White Prosperity, the pure white variant preferred in flower arrangement in combination with other bright-colored flowers.

Propagation is through corms which can be stored for a season before planting them in early spring.