HomeGladioli: Everything you need to know

Gladioli:Everything youneed to know

If you’re looking to create impact in your home, then you can’t go far wrong with having some gladioli in a vase!

Also known by their common name ‘Sword Lily’ (we’ll explain why later) these dramatic flowers could be seen as a bit of a diva, requiring a bit more TLC. The blooms are tall and ornamental, sitting proud in a vase, they are just screaming for you to look at them and give them all your attention. It’s not surprising that in the past they have been a favourite with celebrities like Morrisey and Dame Edna Everage who used them as extravagant props when performing.

Being such a show-off sometimes comes at a price and for a long time the gladiolus flower fell out of favour, apart from with their die-hard fans, for possibly being a little bit too dramatic. As with anything retro or vintage, in recent years they’ve been making a comeback and they are now regularly found gracing the top ten lists for cut flowers.

It’s not hard to see why. Incredibly popular, the tall gladiolus flower spikes present large, almost orchid like, blooms that are available in a wide range of colours making them perfect to match your mood. The flowers also have the advantage of growing on both sides of the stem. So, if you’re not too experienced in the art of flower arranging then don’t worry. With gladioli, all you need do is simply put a large bunch of these dramatic flowers in a vase and let the flowers do the work. Instantaneously you’ve got a display that’s good enough to appear in a lifestyle magazine!



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Meaning of Gladioli

Despite their recent popularity, the roots of the gladioli are cemented deep in history. Many of the oldest species have originated from Africa and Asia and they can date back to Roman times and possibly even further.

Due to the unique long and pointed shape of their leaves they were named after the Latin word ‘gladius’ which means sword. This very easily morphed into its widely recognised name ‘Sword Lily’.

Their Latin name isn’t the only thing that connects them to Rome. It is also said that the gladioli would be worn around the neck by Roman Gladiators for protection in battle. Some people also think that the flowers would be thrown into the arena to celebrate a gladiator’s win (a bit like a bouquet thrown on stage at the end of a theatre or ballet performance) – no wonder why they’re often chosen as a flower to celebrate success.

Part of the Iris family, all the gladioli varieties we have available today stem from only seven species. There are currently between 250 and 300 species of gladioli recorded with the vast majority found growing in Southern and Eastern Africa.

A smaller number of gladioli can be found growing naturally in Europe, although most of the modern day stems you find in your vase have been hybridized with their history, stemming back to one of the African species. Gladioli only started to become well known in Europe as a ‘decorative’ flower during the 1700s when expanding trade routes across the globe led to the introduction of new and exotic plants.


Types of Gladioli Flowers

In Britain in the 1800s, enthusiasts started to create hybrid versions of the gladioli, basically crossbreeding two plants to create a designer version. Today, thanks to their work, these flowers come in a wide range of sizes and colours.

If you’re looking for flowers for any occasion, then these are for you! The smallest are Miniature Gladioli which feature petite flowers and stem lengths. These can be simply paired with sweetpeas, freesia and lisianthus for a delicate wedding posy bouquet. If you want to create a showstopping summer arrangement why not go for the Grandiflora flowers – these are the ones most likely found in a florists - which can grow up to 120cm in height. Mix them up with some tall-stemmed sunflowers, stocks and even some roses or lilies to create a decadent display.

Not only do you have the pick of sizes, you can also get a vast range of colour choices, enough to colour a veritable rainbow, including both solid and multicoloured versions. Not all of these are easily available to buy as cut flowers. The ones you’re most likely to see are the pink, red, yellow, orange, purple and white flowers. Just don’t expect to see a blue one – they don’t exist and the closest you’ll get is a blue/lilac mix!

Gladioli flowers are complex characters and symbolises a wide range of emotions. The plant itself expresses strength of character, remembrance, faithfulness, and moral integrity. The yellow flowers represent cheerfulness and compassion – well who wouldn’t when faced with such a large bloom in such a happy colour. Gift a red gladioli and it shows love and passion, and they are an alternative flower to give on Valentine’s Day. Finally, pinks stand for femininity and motherly love while purple represents mysteriousness and charm.

When are Gladioli in Season?

Due to their African heritage Gladioli like the warmer months which is why you’ll find them flowering in gardens in the UK throughout summer and autumn.

Want to know when to get them from your florist? When grown, gladioli will only flower once in a season and will normally only last for around one to three weeks. The earliest can be found in the shops in June with the latest available in early October. However, they are more readily available between July and September with their peak month falling in the middle.

Lastly, a word of warning, the gladioli plant can be harmful to your cats and dogs if they are eaten. Although the bulb is undoubtedly the biggest threat to animals, the plants and leaves can also cause problems such as upset stomachs. Probably best to keep them out of reach of furry friends!


Fun facts

  • Gladioli are the August birth flower – a perfect gift if you know someone with a birthday in this month
  • The New Forest is the only place in the UK where gladioli grows as a wild flower. In June and July, you can find them growing in the forest under areas of bracken which hides it from grazing animals. Due to overenthusiastic picking by visitors the wild plant is quite rare and protected in the UK.
  • Gladioli has featured heavily in the arts. American Ragtime composer Scott Joplin composed a rag called “Gladiolus Rag” while Vincent van Gogh dedicated an entire painting to these flowers called ‘Vase with Red Gladioli’
  • Dame Edna Everage, an Australian comedian and personality who was popular in the UK in the 1970’s and 1980’s, would use gladioli as her signature flowers often referring to them as ‘gladdies’.
  • The Mancunian singer Morrissey, who was lead singer of The Smiths, was known to dance with gladioli, waving them above his head during his performances.
  • Throughout history, gladiolus has been useful for medicinal purposes. African herbalists believed in the magical medicinal benefits of this plant using it to treat illnesses such as the common cold. While in Europe, they mashed gladiolus root to draw out splinters and thorns or ground dried seed pods into powder and mixed with milk to treat colic.

How to Care for Gladioli

As with any diva, these flowers can require a little bit of work when displaying them in the home. But, with blooms lasting for seven or more days combined with their magnificent displays, they are worth the extra effort.

Gladioli tend to last longer in a vase when the flowers have not fully opened. Before putting them into a vase, you will need to cut off about 3cm from the bottom of the stem. Make a single cut at an angle, this will help the water to travel up the stem and encourage the flowers to show off their true beauty.

Remove any leaves from the stem that will sit in the water, otherwise they will rot and cause the water to go murky and the gladioli really will not like it. It is also worthwhile rinsing the stems to remove any bacteria they may have picked up.

Remember, these are tall, heavy flowers and you will need a vase weighted at the bottom and not too wide at the top.

Don’t worry if only some of the gladioli flowers open at first. Any blooms that are closed before you put them in the vase will gradually open over the coming days. It’s important to remove any flowers that are starting to fade at the bottom of the stem otherwise the flowers at the top may not open.

Putting the flowers into a warm room will encourage the flowers to open but, to lengthen their display time, move them to a cooler spot out of direct sunlight and drafts to avoid them dehydrating. These are thirsty flowers so keep an eye on the water levels. It can also help to change the water to help keep them looking fresh, but you will need to do a fresh cut at the bottom of the stems each time.

All clued up on the grand gladioli flower? Shop our gladioli bouquets and make a statement this summer.