The tall, striking spike of gladiolus is one of the most eye-catching flowers. Just as popular as garden plants and cut flowers, these slender beauties can grow up to five feet tall! They also come in nearly every color from bright red to pastel pink.
The Meaning of Gladioluses
Gladioluses, from the Latin word gladius, meaning sword, are named for the sword-like shape of their leaves. Prior to their Latin name, they were called xiphium which comes from the Greek word for sword. Gladioluses were seen as a sign of luck and protection during the time of the gladiator. This early association with fierce fighters led to the current sentiment of strength of character.
Today they also are traditionally given as a 40th anniversary gift and represent the birth flower of August.
Meanings in different cultures:
- In China, it is believed the gladiolus can help people who have passed away find the heavens.
- Victorian romantics believed the gladiolus flowers were capable of piercing someone’s heart with their beauty causing infatuation.
- In spiritual circles, gladioluses are referred to as a ladder to heaven with their tall spires and blooms that grow from the bottom up.
The History of Gladioluses
Most members of the gladiolus genus originated in Africa or Asia. Many believe the biblical reference to “lilies of the field” was the first written reference to the gladiolus. They grew wildly across Northern Africa and the Middle East during that time. The first South African gladioluses were brought to Europe from Dutch and English merchants following the Indian Trade Route in the 1740s.
Several English horticulturists began hybridizing them in the early 19th century, but none were successful until James Colville who was able to grow fertile hybrids. However, the beautiful colors of modern day gladioluses are descendants of African species not the product of European horticulturalists. We can thank the gardeners in Europe for high bud counts and multiple florets.
The English crushed gladiolus root into a powder and used it as an ointment on wounds. It was thought to remove splinters. They also combined this powder with goat’s milk to treat colic in babies. Don’t try this at home! If the roots are not prepared properly they can be poisonous and result in skin rashes.
Now, American gardeners often plant these flowers along the back of their flowerbeds for the dramatic backdrop they provide. It is also common to plant them along fences since the fence helps keep their tall spires upright.
Modern African herbalists use gladiolus to treat a long list of illnesses. They boil the root to remove toxins and then use it to treat colds, dysentery, diarrhea and constipation. In the Congo, it is considered a food and is a good source of carbohydrates to help balance the diet.