After writing an article about gladioli some time ago, I decided to pursue their origins a bit further. I wondered, among other things, whether they were indiginous to areas other than South Africa. Join me on my "expedition" and discover where it leads us.
My first discovery was quite a surprise.I had read that the exotic-looking glad flowers from South Africa had been the basis for early hybrids created in England beginning in 1810 and that between 1837 and 1940 thousands of wildly popular hybrids were created. So, after digging a bit deeper into glad history, I was astonished to find that gladioli actually grow wild in England!New Forest National Park, which covers most of the southwestern portion of Hampshire in south central England (see map below), is the only area in the U.K. where wild glads grow.
Just one native species, Gladiolus illyricus, grows there (see photo later in this article).Its favorite habitat is among bracken ferns on the edges of pastures and woodlands.In June and July it sports tall spikes of bright magenta blooms.The rest of the year G. illyricus is hard to spot, because its leaves resemble grasses interwoven with the bracken.Perhaps that is one of the reasons that its existence was not recorded until 1856 by the Rev. W. H. Lucas.Today it is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, which makes it illegal to "pick, uproot, destroy or sell" this species.
Google Click map to enlarge
Wikipedia Click map to enlarge
There may only be one spot in the U.K. that harbors this somewhat elusive glad but, as I soon discovered, wild glads grow in many other areas of Europe as well, primarily in wooded heathlands, but also in dry, rocky areas along the Mediterranean Sea.Their range extends east to the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and Armenia.Here the primary species is Gladiolus dzhavakheticus.It is notable not only as a valued addition to the flower garden but also for its corm, which, when roasted or boiled, is considered a delicacy by the local population.
South African Natives
About 260 species of glads share the globe with us, of which 250 are native to sub-Saharan Africa.Countries with wild species include Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, and, of course, South Africa (see map above).A great number of these species can be found growing in South Africa's Cape Floristic Region, where they were originally discovered in the 1800s. Many native South African glads are actually quite beautiful, even without the intervention of hybridization. I've included images of a few on the left so you can see what I mean.
One last surprise awaited me as I concluded my expedition.I actually discovered several wild glads right here in the U.S.!I found one species in Alabama and several in Florida.The catch is that they're wildflowers, but not native.They escaped cultivation at some point after the early 1800s, when glads were first introduced into U.S. horticulture, and have naturalized (images shown below).
The Alabama glad is ‘African Parrot,' Gladiolus dalenii.It was one of the first seven brought to Europe from South Africa in the 1600s.It was also one of the parent glads used to create the first hybridized glad in 1823.The other parent in that process was G. oppositiflourus.
The Florida glads are G.illyricus (the native glad of England mentioned above), G. x gandavensis, and G. byzantine.They grow wild in the Florida panhandle, primarily in theEscambiaRiver region.
And so we've come full circle, from the U.S. to Europe to Africa and back home again.If you would like to try some of these beautiful species glads, you can go on a mini-expedition right here at Dave's Garden.Here is a link to get you started.Happy hunting!
Glads Naturalized in the United States
G. x gandavensis
In addition to being edible, the corms of some species glads were used as a poultice to draw out thorns and splinters, according to John Gerard's Great Herball, or Generall Historie ofPlantes, published in 1597.In powder form they were used to treat colic when mixed with goat's milk.Occasionally the powder was also mixed with flour and added to breads.
The thumbnail photo at the top of this article is Gladiolus imbricatus, native to southeastern Europe.
Credits Gladiolus dalenii 'African Parrot': DonnaA2Z (PlantFiles) Gladiolus illyricus: Zaragoza (PlantFiles) Other Gladiolus species: Wikipedia
About Larry Rettig
An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/m/LarryR/. Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.