The Gladiolus Flower: Meanings, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance

Not many ornamental flowers are quite as striking, in my opinion, as Gladiolli. Historically, the flowers have carried a variety of meanings associated with remembrance and infatuation. They are often displayed to remember loved ones who have passed or to commemorate special occasions or anniversaries. In the language of flowers, a gladiolus flower also holds the symbolic meaning of honor, faithfulness, persistence, calmness, integrity, and strength of character, typically aligned to their respective color characteristics.  

A field of pink gladioli flowers in bloom

Etymology

Gladiolus flowers came from the Latin name gladius, which means “little sword.” It refers to the sword-like shape and appearance of the plant’s leaves and flower spikes. 

Other common names for the gladiolus flower include sword lilies or corn lilies

Gladiolus Flowers in Ancient Times

In ancient Rome, gladioli were associated with gladiators, the flower symbolizing the gladiators’ strength and skill in combat. The flower was also believed to have the power to pierce the heart with its beauty, symbolizing infatuation and admiration. Additionally, giving gladioli was seen as a gesture of respect and honor, acknowledging the recipient’s character and fortitude.

While often associated with the Mediterranean due to its Latin name, the gladiolus is native to sub-Saharan Africa. The flower has a long history in African folklore and tradition. For instance, the Xhosa people of South Africa used the gladiolus plant for some medicinal properties.

Ancient Medical Uses

In Ancient times, gladioli were also valued for their medicinal properties. Ancient texts mention the use of gladiolus plants in treatments for various ailments, from extracting thorns and splinters to healing physical injuries, further underscoring the flower’s symbolism of strength and vitality.

Gladioli Flowers in Floriography

In floriography, the language of flowers that became popular during the Victorian era, gladioli held a variety of common meanings.

These tall, sword-like flowers were typically used to convey the strength of character, integrity, and the power of persistence. Gladioli were often given to express admiration, not just for the recipient’s beauty but, more importantly, for their strength and moral fortitude.

In Victorian floriography, presenting someone with gladioli could be a way to communicate admiration for their character, a proposal of a duel of passion, or an expression of infatuation, suggesting that the giver’s heart is “pierced” with love or admiration.

August Birth Month Flowers

The tradition of August birth flowers is thought to have originated in ancient Rome, where flowers were given as gifts to celebrate birthdays and other special events. Each month was associated with a particular flower, believed to hold specific characteristics or powers that would be imparted to people born in that month.

Gladioli are one of the birth flowers for August, symbolizing the strength of character, sincerity, and moral integrity that they traditionally represent.

For those born in August, gladioli can symbolize the celebration of their inner strength and persistence.

40th Anniversary Flowers

Some of the earliest records of anniversary flowers date back to the Holy Roman Empire and the Middle Ages when German couples started giving each other anniversary gifts in specific years. For instance, a husband would gift his wife a silver wreath when they reached their 25th anniversary and a gold wreath to commemorate their 50th anniversary.

In Victorian times, it became increasingly commonplace for anniversaries to be recognized with gifts. More people started to marry for love over previous reasons, and a gift to celebrate each year was a way to help couples focus on each other and celebrate that love.

Gladioli are traditionally associated as the official 40th wedding anniversary flower, symbolizing the strength, beauty, and integrity that have characterized the marriage over four decades. The gladiolus, with its tall stems and striking blooms, is a testament to the enduring nature of a long-lasting relationship.

Gladiolus Flower Color Meanings

In the language of flowers, color plays an intrinsic role in the associated symbolism of many blooms. The same is true for gladioli, with different shades conveying additional meanings.

Red Gladiolus Flowers

Red Gladiolus Flowers in bloom

Out of many available colors of a gladioli flower, a red gladiolus flower is perhaps the most appropriate gift for romantic occasions such as Valentine’s Day or anniversaries. A red gladioli flower symbolizes passion, deep love, and romance. 

Yellow Gladiolus Flowers

Yellow Gladiolus flowers in bloom

Yellow color, in general, unquestionably brings a ray of sunshine and cheerfulness in any room, and the same applies to a yellow gladiolus flower. Like other yellow flower meaning, gladiolus in yellow hues symbolizes happiness, positivity, joy, warmth, and friendship. 

Therefore, a yellow gladiolus flower is an ideal gift for family, friends, and coworkers. Give it for various occasions and celebrations, brightening your friend’s day, or expressing support and appreciation. 

Purple Gladiolus Flowers

Purple Gladiolus flowers in a garden

Two words are often associated with a purple gladiolus flower – grace and charm. Purple flowers symbolize. You can give your partner, family member, friend, or coworker a purple gladiolus flower to express admiration or appreciation. 

White Gladiolus Flowers

White Gladiolus Flowers in bloom

Purity, innocence, and elegance are often the general meanings of white flowers; white gladiolus is no exception. Because of the association with these meanings, white gladiolus flowers are a typical sight at weddings and funerals, but they are also excellent in bouquets as gifts for special occasions. 

Pink Gladiolus Flowers

Pink Gladiolus Flowers in bloom

A pink gladiolus flower symbolizes love, romance, femininity, and gentleness. It also represents a mother’s love, which makes it a fitting gift for moms. Because of their symbolism, gladiolus flowers in pink are a great way to tell someone you love and respect her. 

Myths and Folklore About Gladiolus Flowers 

Greek mythology tells an exciting story about glads. 

Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest and agriculture, felt deep affection for a sacred grove near Thessaly. One villager nearby, who did not believe in gods, took firewood from the holy forest despite being stopped by the worshippers of Ceres. His name was Erisichthon. 

One time, Erisichton cut off the man’s head, who tried stopping him from getting another firewood from the sacred grove. Furios of Erisichton’s actions, Ceres punished the greedy man with famine. Sword-like plants called gladiolus emerged from the blood. 

Erisichton sold his daughter when he had no other way to fulfill his appetite, but she escaped to the forest. Consequently, the Greek goddess turned the daughter into a gladiolus flower to keep guard of the man that her father killed. 

Gladiolus Flowers in Art & Literature

The striking appearance of the gladiolus flower has made it a popular subject in art and literature. Here are a few famous references:

The famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet painted gladioli in some of his works. His garden at Giverny had many flowers, and gladioli were among those he captured on canvas.

Van Gogh painted “Vase with Red Gladioli” in 1886. The painting showcases a vase of vibrant red gladioli against a blue-green background.

D.H. Lawrence wrote a poem titled “Gladioli,” where he compares the flowering of gladioli to the flourishing of love in a relationship.

The lead singer of The Smiths, Morrissey, has often been associated with gladioli. He used to wave bunches of these striking flowers during performances in the 1980s.

Wrapping Up

The gladiolus flower, with its sword-shaped leaves and vibrant colors, has captured the imagination of cultures for centuries. Its name, rooted in the Latin “gladius,” meaning “sword,” is a testament to its symbolism of strength, integrity, and moral fortitude. Furthermore, it symbolizes love, infatuation, and remembrance, with each color variant adding nuanced meanings. Whether displayed in a garden, painted on a canvas, or presented in a bouquet, the gladiolus remains a cherished emblem of both physical and moral strength.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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