The long, lovely gladiolus is the birthday flower for August. A member of the iris family, “glads” are also called sword lilies because of their sharply pointed leaves and tall stalks of flowers with pointed tips. The Latin name for Gladiolus is gladius, a clear reference to the sword-swinging gladiators of ancient Rome.
There are 255 species of gladiolus and the plants range in size from two to five feet tall with elegant trumpet-shaped blossoms that grow in a double row along the stem. You can find hybrid varieties with ruffled, wavy or frilled petals and the flowers can be found in every color.
Gladiolus in History
Gladiolus is native to tropical Africa and areas around the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is believed that gladiolus plants were first brought to Europe in the early 18th century. Around the 1820s, gardeners began to seriously cultivate gladiolus and create hybrid varieties that became very popular in gardens and as cut flowers.
Around 1837, new green, brown and purple shades of gladiolus flowers were developed in Belgium. In 1870, the French introduced a newly discovered species with deep purple streaks. By the 1880s, German and other European plant breeders had developed over 2000 named varieties of gladiolus, which first appeared in American nurseries around 1891 and became wildly popular.
Colors and Symbolism
In floral history, gladiolus flowers have several different meanings. Because of their association with gladiators, they traditionally symbolize strength, sincerity and moral integrity. Gladiolus flowers also represent remembrance. And even though their sword-shaped leaves hark back to ancient swords and battles, Victorian romantics determined that gladiolus flowers were capable of piercing someone’s heart with their beauty, adding infatuation to the list of traditional floral meanings.
Fun Facts about Gladiolus
- Mediterranean and British gladiolus flowers were used by herbalists to treat physical ailments.
- Some parts of the gladiolus plant are poisonous if eaten by humans or animals.
- Some species may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions when touched.
- Gladiolus roots were used in England as a poultice for drawing out thorns and splinters.
- Powdered gladiolus roots were mixed with goat’s milk to soothe colic in babies.
In addition to their reign as the August birthday flower gladiolus is also the official flower of 40-year anniversaries. So if your 40th is coming up and your spouse was also born in August, you have double the reason to celebrate with a beautiful bouquet of gladiolas.