proper names The flowers in the genus Gladiolus (glad-ee-O-lus) are commonly known as sword lilies, in reference to the shape of their leaves (in Latin, “Gladius” means “small sword”). Plural forms of Gladiolus include Gladioli (glad-ee-O-lie, glad-ee-O-lee) and Gladioluses (glad-ee-O-lus-es).
large and small The spikes of traditional large-flowered Gladioli (Grandiflorus hybrids) typically have 10 to 16 funnel-shaped blooms (and buds), in alternating facings, mostly on one side of 3- to 4-foot-long stems. Petal edges are often ruffled.
Miniature Gladioli (a.k.a. butterfly Gladioli) are classified in the Gladiolus Nanus (nay-nus) Group, which includes the G. x colvillei (kol-vil-ee-eye). The blooms often have blotched colorations and ruffly petal edges, and stems typically are less than 24 inches long.
Gladioli leaves are long and sword shaped and are wrapped around the stem ends and each other.
color schemes Gladioli are available in a wide range of colors, including burgundy, red, pink, orange, salmon, coral, apricot, yellow, green, purple, lavender, cream and white. Bicolor varieties also are available.
selling season Gladioli are available year-round, primarily from growers in the U.S. and Holland. Depending on location, some growers’ production spans May through December while others produce from around November through May.
way to buy Purchase cut Gladioli when color is visible in the lowest one to five buds. With some varieties, the first bud should be at least three-fourths open. If Gladioli are cut too tight, the flower buds might never open without specialized care procedures. Check bloom spikes, stems and leaves for bruising, browning, yellowing, gray mold (Botrytis) and rot.
outside the box Unpack Gladioli immediately upon their arrival in your shop, and check flower quality.
hydration and nutrition
Recut stem ends with a sharp blade, removing at least 1 inch to minimize dirt and microbes. Immediately dip or place stem ends into a hydration solution to help the flowers absorb water quickly and easily, then place them into a flower-food solution prepared with nonfluoridated water (see Note, below). Check the solution level daily; these flowers are heavy drinkers.
Note: Gladioli are extremely sensitive to fluoride in water, which can cause deterioration of petal edges, failure of florets to open and develop, “burning” of the bud/floret sheath, and yellowing or darkening of leaf edges.
cold care Experts used to recommend storing Gladioli at 40 F to 45 F to prevent chill damage, but more recent research shows these flowers can be refrigerated safely at 33 F to 35 F. Allow them to hydrate for at least two hours before selling or arranging them. Except for design time, keep them refrigerated until they’re sold or delivered.
ethyl’s influence Ethylene does not affect open Gladiolus florets, but it can cause buds to shrivel and prevent them from opening.
time of their life Six to 10 days is the typical vase life for cut Gladioli, depending on variety, care and stage of maturity at the time of sale.
straighten up Gladioli are geotropic, which means that stem tips curve upward in response to gravity, so place these flowers vertically in storage containers. Refrigerating them at 33 F to 35 F also lessens the response.
to tip or not Many florists remove immature buds at the spikes’ tips to help lower buds open fully. The effectiveness of this technique, however, has not been supported by research.
home sweet home Gladioli are native primarily to tropical Africa and South Africa but also to Europe, particularly the Mediterranean region, and the Middle East (from Turkey south to Yemen).
Some florists also remove lower flowers as they fade in an effort to help upper flower buds open. Research shows that this action, in fact, reduces upper flower buds’ ability to open.
family ties Gladiolus is a member of the Iridaceae (Iris) family. Close relatives include Iris, montbretia (Crocosmia), Crocus, Freesia, African corn lily (Ixia) and bugle lily (Watsonia).