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Everything You Need to Know About Gladiolus Flower Meaning, Symbolism, History, and Origins

The Gladiolus Flower is a perennial flowering plant known for its impressive tall spikes of blooms. No wonder it’s a florist favorite – its vivid and cheerful hues of pink, orange, yellow, purple, and white add an instant charm to any bouquet. Beautiful and versatile, a gladiolus flower arrangement often makes a lovely gifting flower for any occasion, like birthdays and anniversaries. 

In this guide we’ll take you through everything you need to know about these blooms: 

Let’s dive straight in:


Gladiolus flowers: 

Gladiolus Flowers

Name and origin

Gladiolus is a flowering perennial that grows from corms, which are bulb-like structures. Part of the Iris (Iridaceae) family, the name gladiolus, in fact, refers to the entire genus of 260 species that originated from tropical Africa, South Africa, Asia, and Mediterranean Europe. 

Why is it named gladiolus?

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

Also, because of its look, the gladiolus flowers are known as sword lilies or corn lilies

On top of that, the name xiphium also refers to a gladioli flower. It comes from the Greek word xiphios, which likewise means “sword.” 

Commercially, gladiolus flowers are called glads.

How did the gladiolus flower become known worldwide?

Gladiolus Flower

Gladiolus flowers have been ubiquitous since the ancient period, but it wasn’t until the 18th century when its marketability in other parts of the world reached its peak. 

During the 18th century, African gladioli flowers were brought by travelers from South Africa to Europe in substantial amounts through the Indian Trade Route. This movement induced the hybridization of this plant for garden uses. 

The popularity of these perennials in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the establishment of the American Gladiolus Society in 1910. Founded in Boston, the society initially had 75 members. It aimed to promote the cultivation of gladiolus plants and to standardize gladiolus nomenclature.  

Gladiolus flower hybridization

Gladiolus Flower Hybridisation

Back in the day, there were only about seven species of gladiolus. However, most gladiolus flower varieties available today are already hybrids since these plants are easy to hybridize. 

Gladiolus hybridization commenced in the early 1800s by William Herbert in Britain. However, the hybrids were all sterile and considered unsuccessful. James Colville successfully produced fertile hybrids of gladiolus in 1823. These were the first gladiolus hybrids that sold commercially in the market. 

After 1940, large flowering gladiolus varieties became subject to hybridization in England and the Netherlands. And in 1951, plant breeders introduced the butterfly-type (smaller types) of gladiolus flowers.


Myths 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 on the man that her father killed. 


Gladiolus flower characteristics

Gladiolus Flower Characteristics

A gladiolus plant is best known for its eye-catching spikes of flowers. Each spike contains florets with small to large petals, measuring about 2.5 inches to 5.5 inches. The flower spikes are large, fragrant, and one-sided. 

Similar to other well-liked cut flowers, gladiolus offers multiple color options, including purple, pink, red, yellow, orange, and white. In fact, because of the extensive list of varieties available for this plant, it is available in almost every color possible with true blue as the only exception. 

Gladiolus flowers can be of four types: miniature gladiolus, small, gladiolus, medium gladiolus, and large gladiolus. 

Miniature gladiolus flowers have florets smaller than 2.5 inches. Small gladiolus flowers, on the other hand, bear florets that measure between 2.2 inches to 3.5 inches. Those with florets measuring 3.5 inches to 4.5 inches fall under the medium gladiolus category. Lastly, spikes with 4.2 inches to 5.5 inches of florets are large gladiolus flowers. 


Gladiolus flower bloom time

Gladiolus Flowers

Gladiolus flowers bloom in winter or summer, depending on the species. 

Winter-blooming gladiolus flowers are those that are native to South Africa, such as Gladiolus huttonii, G. teretifolius, G. carneus, G. miniatus, and G. watsonius. These species can endure light frost. 

However, most species and varieties of gladiolus flowers bloom in the summer. These plants are often native to South Africa, tropical parts of Africa, and Europe. Examples include Gladiolus cruentes, G. muriale, G. dalenii, G. papilio, and G. oppositiflorus. Types of gladiolus flowers.


Are gladiolus flowers poisonous? 

Like irises, gladiolus flowers can be poisonous to animals. Hence, it’s best to keep these beautiful blooms away from cats, dogs, and other pets. Although it’s relatively safe for humans, direct contact with its sap could result in skin irritation or dermatitis. 


Gladiolus Flower Symbolism

Gladiolus flowers are the official birth flower for August. Also, they are the 40th Anniversary flower

These flowers are a known symbol of remembrance and infatuation. In the language of flowers, a gladiolus flower also means honor, faithfulness, persistence, calmness, integrity, and strength of character

Because of its sword-shaped foliage and spikes of alluring flowers, they say that gifting a gladiolus flower arrangement is like saying that the giver’s heart is  “pierced with love and passion.”


Gladiolus flower colors: meanings and recommended gifting occasions

Following a gladiolus flower meaning from a general perspective, this striking bloom further presents several more meanings and symbolism depending on its color. 

Red gladiolus flower

Red Gladiolus Flower

Out of many available colors of a gladioli flower, a red gladiolus flower is perhaps the aptest gift for Valentine’s Day or anniversaries. It is because a red gladioli flower is a symbol of passion, deep love, and romance. 

Occasions to gift a red gladiolus flower:

  • Valentine’s Day
  • Wedding anniversaries
  • Birthdays

Yellow gladiolus flower

Yellow Gladiolus Flower

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

For that reason, a yellow gladiolus flower is an ideal gifting flower not just for family but also for friends and coworkers. Give it for various occasions and celebrations, to brighten up your friend’s day, or to express support and appreciation. 

Occasions to gift a yellow gladiolus flower:

  • Job promotions 
  • Graduations
  • Get well soon wishes
  • Congratulatory gift for a doing a great job
  • Housewarming

Purple gladiolus flower

Purple Gladiolus Flower

Two words are often associated with a purple gladiolus flower – grace and charm. This flower color also symbolizes mystery. You can give a purple gladiolus flower to your partner, family member, friend, or coworker to express admiration or appreciation. 

Occasions to gift a yellow gladiolus flower:

  • Job promotions 
  • Congratulatory gift for a doing a great job
  • Housewarming
  • To wish good luck

White gladiolus flower

White Gladiolus Flower

Purity, innocence, and elegance are often the general meanings of white flowers, and a white gladiolus is not an exception. Because of the association with these meanings, white gladiolus flowers are a typical sight in weddings and funerals, but they are also excellent in bouquets as gifts for special occasions. 

Occasions to gift a white gladiolus flower:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Birthdays
  • Religious ceremonies
  • Anniversaries

Pink gladiolus flower

Pink Gladiolus Flowers

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

Occasions to gift a pink gladiolus flower:

  • Mother’s Day
  • Anniversaries
  • Birthdays
  • Romantic date night
  • Just because
  • To wish good luck

Tips to consider when buying gladiolus flowers

Buying cut flowers is easy, right? But do you know how to pick the right flowers? Not to burst your bubble, but choosing the right flowers out of the wide selection available is crucial. 

Let me tell you why. 

The first step to make sure that your flowers would last is by getting them while they are in their prime conditions. Get a bunch of unhealthy or damaged flowers, and expect them to last for only a few days. Keeping these pieces of advice in mind would help you maximize the vase life of your gladioli. 

  • Avoid gladioli with brown stems and select ones with strong, straight stems.
  • Likewise, avoid getting one with shriveled blooms. 
  • Check the floral spikes. Select those with a few open or about to open florets (ideally only the first two or three bottom buds) and avoid ones that have many fully bloomed florets as they will not last long.
  • Ask if the flowers had an anti-ethylene product treatment. Those treated have a longer vase life. 

What other cut flowers go well with a gladiolus flower arrangement? 

Gladiolus Flower Arrangements

Gladiolus flowers are famed cut flowers for floral arrangements, table centerpieces, and bouquets. Since they feature an incredible spike of many beautiful flowers that open on one side, they look best as an accent or focal point in most arrangements. Here are some of the best cut flowers that look great with a gladiolus flower arrangement. 

  • Roses
  • Carnations
  • Oriental Lilies
  • Hydrangeas
  • Iris
  • Delphinium
  • Football chrysanthemums

Gladiolus Flower Care and Handling

Gladiolus Flowers Care and Handling

The stunning and elegant gladiolus flowers can last in a vase from 6 to 12 days when taken care of and handled appropriately. Here are some useful gladiolus flower care tips. 

Conditioning

When you receive your gladiolus blooms, wash off any dirt or debris from the stems, and pinch off leaves below water level. Cut the stems diagonally at a 45-degree angle with a sharp knife or a pair of scissors. After cutting the stems, promptly place the cut flowers in a container with warm water to prevent wilting. Store this container in a dark and cool place for two hours to harden off the plants. 

Selecting a vase

Since gladiolus blooms have spikes that are usually tall, the best container for them should be sturdy like ceramic or glass. The height of the vase should be one-third of the flower’s length. 

Make sure that the vase is thoroughly clean before putting your beautiful gladioli in it. 

Preparation

When preparing your vase with water, ensure that the water is warm and not cold. These plants will only open in warm water. In addition, gladiolus plants are sensitive to flouride, so ensure that the water is non-fluoridated. 

Add flower food or a flower preservative solution. The solution will promote the opening of the buds and prevent wilting.

For cut flowers like gladiolus, the water level in their vase should not be more than six inches. Though these plants are heavy drinkers, putting an excessive amount of water would only promote bacteria build-up. 

Arrange the flowers once your vase is all set up. Then, place the gladiolus vase in a warm room to promote the opening of flowers. 

Maintenance

Keep your gladiolus blooms fresh looking by regularly changing the water. When changing the water, trim each stem diagonally by one inch to promote water uptake. Remove any dying blooms and foliage. 

It will also help if you place your vase of gladiolus flowers away from ripening fruits or vegetables since they emit ethylene. Otherwise, there is a high occurrence that the blooms will deteriorate quickly. 


Petal Republic’s flower and plant guides:

Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s expert buying guides to Roses, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.  


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