Real eye-catchers in the garden, Gladiolus, also known as sword lilies, are cormous perennials boasting incredibly spectacular spikes of funnel-shaped flowers in summer in a surprisingly wide range of colors. Borne atop attractive fans of sword-shaped or linear leaves, they always provide a dramatic effect with their rich and cheerful colors and their breathtaking vertical lines. Easy to grow if some rules are followed, they deserve a spot in beds and borders, containers or in floral arrangements. Members of the Iradaceae family, there are several types of sword-lilies.
- Native to the Mediterranean area, Byzantine Gladiolus is a bulbous perennial that features narrow sword-shaped leaves in a fan of 3-5 erect flowering spikes, each bearing up to 15 bold, magenta funnel-shaped flowers, 2 in. wide (5cm).
- Blooming in late spring to early summer, this eye-catching beauty grows up to 2-3 ft. tall (60-90 cm) and gradually spreads to form large clumps.
- Hardy to zones: 6-10
- Grandiflora hybrids are the most important group of sword-lilies, with several hundreds of cultivars available in a wide range of colors and color combinations.
- Bold and glamourous, they boast giant flowers, up to 6 in. (15 cm) and the longest spikes. Their strong personality emerges as soon as their buds start revealing the colorful petals about to open. Petals may be frilled, ruffled, semiruffled or plain.
- They grow to about 3-6 ft. tall (90-180 cm) and can produce up to 40 buds. Their spikes can bear up to 12-14 open flowers at one time.
- They typically bloom from midsummer to early fall and are hardy to zones 8-11.
- This group also includes shorter, dwarf varieties, including the beautifully marked butterfly types, which reach only 1-3 ft. (30-90 cm).
- Nanus hybrids, also known as butterfly gladioli, include varieties in which the plants and flowers are not as large as those of the Grandiflora hybrids. Less formal looking, their dainty flowers come in a kaleidoscope of colors ranging from white, pink, salmon and red with conspicuous darts of color on the upper petals.
- They grow to about 20-36 in. tall (50-90 cm) and can produce 2 or 3 slim spikes, carrying up to 18 widely spaced, 3 in. (7 cm) blossoms.
- They typically bloom from early to late summer and are generally hardy to zones 5-10. They can stay in the ground year-around in zone 6 and warmer, but will require added protection in zone 5 (winter mulch).
- Primulinus gladiolus hybrids can be recognized by the upper flower leaf which covers the other flower leaves, pistil and stamen as if it were a protective little cap. They bloom later than the butterfly hybrids, with one stem of up to 24 blooms.
Summer Blooming species
Some examples of summer-blooming African species are Gladiolus dalenii, G. cruentus, G. oppositiflorus, G. papilio and G. saundersii.
- Native to Africa, it boasts tall, arching stems with 10–12 wide open stars, creamy-white with a mysterious deep purple center. The flowers are well-spaced, enjoy a graceful appearance and provide a wonderful fragrance.
- Hardy to zones 7-10, it grows up to 2-3ft. tall (60-90 cm).
- Plant in spring for bloom in late summer and fall.
Winter Growing Gladioli
Winter blooming gladioli are smaller in comparison to the popular grandiflora hybrids. Some example of winter-blooming sword-lilies are Gladiolus tristis, G. caeruleus, G. carneus, G. huttonii, G. watsonius and G. trichonemifolius.