Gladiolus (from Latin, the diminutive of gladius, a sword) is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family (Iridaceae). Sometimes called the sword lily, the most widely-used English common name for these plants is simply gladiolus.
The genus Gladiolus contains about 260 species, of which 250 are native to sub-Saharan Africa, mostly South Africa. About 10 species are native to Eurasia. There are 160 species of Gladiolus endemic in southern Africa and 76 in tropical Africa. The species vary from very small to the spectacular giant flower spikes in commerce.
These attractive, perennial herbs are semihardy in temperate climates. They grow from rounded, symmetrical corms, that are enveloped in several layers of brownish, fibrous tunics.
Their stems are generally unbranched, producing 1 to 9 narrow, sword-shaped, longitudinal grooved leaves, enclosed in a sheath. The lowest leaf is shortened to a cataphyll. The leaf blades can be plane or cruciform in cross section.
The fragrant flower spikes are large and one-sided, with secund, bisexual flowers, each subtended by 2 leathery, green bracts. The sepals and the petals are almost identical in appearance, and are termed tepals. They are united at their base into a tube-shaped structure. The dorsal tepal is the largest, arching over the three stamens. The outer three tepals are narrower. The perianth is funnel-shaped, with the stamens attached to its base. The style has three filiform, spoon-shaped branches, each expanding towards the apex.
The ovary is 3-locular with oblong or globose capsules, containing many, winged brown, longitudinally dehiscent seeds.
These flowers are variously colored, pink to reddish or light purple with white, contrasting markings, or white to cream or orange to red.
The South African species were originally pollinated by long-tongued anthrophorine bees, but some changes in the pollination system have occurred, allowing pollination by sunbirds, noctuid and sphingid moths, long-tongued flies and several others.
Gladioli have been extensively hybridized and a wide range of ornamental flower colours are available from the many varieties. The main hybrid groups have been obtained by crossing between four or five species, followed by selection: Grandiflorus, Primulines and Nanus. They make very good cut flowers. However, due to their height, the cultivated forms frequently tend to fall over in the wind if left on the plant.
The stage character Dame Edna Everage has adopted the gladiolus as her trademark flower; the flowers often appear in her publicity photos and stage appearances. The singer Morrissey has done the same thing since his days in The Smiths in the 1980s, this use of flowers being unusual in popular-music circles.
Gladiolus angustus is a species of gladiolus known by the common name long-tubed painted lady. This flower is an herb growing from a papery corm and reaching 30 to 60 centimeters in height. It has basal sword-shaped leaves with prominent midveins. Each scape has two or three flowers with lance-shaped bracts. The funnel-shaped flowers are white or cream, sometimes tinted with pink. The fruit often do not develop. This plant is native to South Africa but has become invasive elsewhere and naturalized in many places, especially Australia.
Gladiolus callianthus - The Peacock Flower (Abyssinian gladiolus) is a gaudy tropical plant that is native to Madagascar. According to the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) it is a native of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). It has been widely planted in tropical regions and is cultivated in subtropical and temperate regions. It is a common garden flower in Western European gardens, where the bulbs are lifted and stored frost-free in the winter season because the species is not hardy there. The flowers are white with a scarlet patch, occasionally orange. The species was first described as Acidanthera bicolor Hochst.
Gladiolus × colvillei Sweet is a hybrid Gladiolus cultivar. Common name: Scarlet Gladiolus. The original Gladiolus × colvillei was bred by the nurseryman James Colville of Chelsea, London from the southern African species G. tristis and G. cardinalis and first described in 1823; it is still cultivated. It has deep pink flowers with a cream stripe on each of the lower three tepals.
Gladiolus crassifolius is a species of Gladiolus found in Africa. It is a perennial species with substantial stems and brightly coloured flowers. There are many synonyms of Gladiolus crassifolius. In tropical areas Gladiolus crassifolius is known as Gladiolus thomsonii. It is found in the Afro-alpine zone of Mount Kenya, up to around 3,300m (11,000ft). It has scarlet petals with yellow centres and a strong stem, and has been seen growing in a variety of habitats such as forest edges and open grassland.
Gladiolus dalenii originates from South African seed.
Gladiolus italicus is a species of gladiolus known by the common names Italian gladiolus, field gladiolus, and common sword-lily. It is probably native to much of Eurasia, but it is well-known on other continents where it is a common weed, particularly of cultivated fields and waste places. This perennial flower grows an erect stem approaching a meter in maximum height with a few long leaves around its base. Toward the top half of the generally unbranching stem is a spike inflorescence on which flowers appear at intervals. Each plant has up to 15 or 16 flowers. The flower is bright pink to magenta and several centimeters long with its stamens and style protruding from the throat. The fruit is a capsule about a centimeter long containing many seeds.
Gladiolus pole-evansii is a species of plant in the Iridaceae family. It is endemic to South Africa. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry shrubland.
Gladiolus crassifolius is a species of Gladiolus found in Africa. It is a perennial species with substantial stems and brightly coloured flowers.
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