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Hyacinth - February 2010(printable PDF)
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Gladiolus spp.
(Plural: Gladioli, Gladioluses, Gladiolus)

Sword lily, Corn flag
Note: The term “gladiola” is often—but mistakenly—used as a common name for Gladiolus, which can sound like “gladiolas.” In formal English, “gladiola” and “gladiolas” are not recognized words.

The flower 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. Blossoms often have ruffle-edged petals.

     Miniature Gladioli (a.k.a. butterfly Gladioli) are known botanically as Gladiolus Nanus Group, which includes G. x colvillei (kol-vil-ee-eye). The flower spikes usually have no more than seven blooms, which often have blotched colorations and ruffly petal edges. Stems typically are less than 24 inches long.

     Gladioli leaves are long and sword shaped and are enwrapped around the stem ends and each other.

Gladioli are available in a wide range of reds, oranges, yellows, greens and violets—every hue except blue. Bicolor varieties also are available.

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.

Gladioli are available year-round from U.S. and Holland growers. Depending on location, some growers’ production spans May through December while others produce from around November through May.

vase-life extenders


Unpack Gladioli immediately upon their arrival, and check flower quality.

     Next, recut stem ends with a sharp blade, removing at least 1 inch of stem. Immediately after cutting, dip or place stem ends into a hydration solution to help the flowers absorb water more quickly and easily, then place them into a flower-food solution prepared with nonfluoridated water.

     (Gladioli are extremely sensitive to fluoride in water, which can cause deterioration of petal edges, failure of florets to open and develop normally, “burning” of the bud/floret sheath, and yellowing or darkening of leaf edges.)

Experts used to recommend storing Gladioli (especially Florida-grown Gladioli) at 40 F to 45 F to prevent chill damage to the tips of the florets, 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 these flowers refrigerated until they’re sold or delivered.

Check flower-food solution level daily; Gladioli are heavy drinkers.

are geotropic, which means that stem tips curve upward in response to the forces of gravity, so place these flowers upright in their storage containers. Refrigerating Gladioli at 33 F to 35 F also lessens this geotropic response.

     Many florists remove immature buds at the tips of the flower spikes, in an attempt to help lower buds open fully by preventing the distribution of nutrients to upper buds that likely will never open. The effectiveness of this technique, however, has never been supported by scientific research.

     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.

Ethylene does not affect open Gladiolus florets, but it can cause buds to shrivel and prevent them from opening.

Provide consumers with packets of flower food, so they can change the nutrient solution in their containers every other day or so. Advise them to recut the stems, as well, removing at least one-half inch of stem, and to display Gladioli out of direct sunlight, away from air/heat vents and out of cold drafts. Encourage consumers to place the flowers in the coolest room at night to prolong vase life.

  fun facts  

WHAT’S IN A NAME Gladiolus is the Latin term for “small sword,” a reference to the shape of the leaves and the derivation of the common name “sword lily.”
The hybrid name “Grandiflorus” means large flowered and the hybrid name “Nanus” (NAY-nus) means dwarf.

FAMILY MATTERS 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).

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).


purchasing tips

Buy cut Gladioli when color is visible in the lowest one to five flower buds. With some varieties, the first floret should be at least three-fourths open. If Gladioli are cut too tight, the flower buds might never open, without additional care procedures.

Check bloom spikes, stems and leaves for bruising, browning, yellowing, gray mold (Botrytis) and rot.

Some information provided by:

Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network® ,
Dictionary of Plant Names, by Allen J. Coombes
Hortus Third, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
New Pronouncing Dictionary of Plant Names by Florists’ Review
SAF Flower & Plant Care, by Terril A. Nell, Ph.D. and Michael S. Reid, Ph.D.
Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, by William T. Stearn

Photos: California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC)

Super Floral Retailing •• • Copyright 2010
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.