The Gladiolus—A Remarkable Flower of Fragile Beauty
Almost everyone is awed by the delicate beauty of flowering vegetation, an outstanding example of which is the gladiolus. Because it is so popular, the gladiolus is grown commercially in several countries, including Israel and the Netherlands. There are also gladiolus farms in the United States that ship their products to flower-growing enthusiasts around the world.
The wondrous gladiolus family has increased to include more than 2,000 varieties, which come in every imaginable color, hue, and texture. How has this seemingly endless variety of the same flower been developed by flower growers?
Creating New Varieties
The grower uses an instrument, such as a camel-hair brush, to remove pollen from the stamen, the male part, of a flower and transfer it to the stigma, the female part, of a different flower. The pollen is usually placed on the lowest florets, or blooms, of the host plant. Once this is done, the flower is tied shut to prevent natural pollinators, such as bees or flies, from altering the results. To obtain a particular color or appearance, one type of gladiolus is crossed with a different one having the desired features.
This does not mean that the new variety, or hybrid, is a new kind of flower. The potential for such variety has been there all along, locked up in the gladiolus’ complex genetic code. Through selective breeding, gladioli in colors ranging from dazzling white to black-red or dark purple can be achieved. There are also gladioli with blotches, spots, frills, and double florets. Some even have a slight fragrance.
Look closely at the flowers illustrated here, and note the many varieties of glads. What a delight is the one seen here called Pulchritude! As its petals stretch out, they reveal soft, ruffled, lavender edges with darker lavender at their tips. On the bottom petals, leading into the throat of each floret, is a delightful splash of dark rose and purple.
Another variety, called Orchid Lace, also seen here, gives the impression that it is so fragile that the slightest touch would bruise it. Its florets lie back against the stem, while long stamens rise from the center of each colorful throat. Other varieties bear such evocative names as Glittering Star, Dream’s End, Red Alert, Peerless, and Silver Moon.
In addition to obtaining seeds from the flowers, gladiolus farmers harvest the corms, the bulblike bottom part of the flower’s stem. They also collect the cormels, small secondary corms that grow on the main corms.
Cultivated gladioli have been developed mostly from African species. Thus, they have their roots in the tropics, so to speak, and are quite sensitive to climate. They may not survive the cold winters of some lands, but they do well during the warm summer months.
In colder climates the corms should be dug up at the end of the growing season and carefully cleaned. A new corm will have formed, and removing the old, dead corm at the very bottom of the stem will make it easier for the new corm to put down roots. In addition, the pea-sized cormels that lie clustered on each corm must be removed. During cold weather both cormels and corms should be kept in a dry, cool place with temperatures above freezing.
When planted, each cormel will put out thin leaves, and by the end of the growing season, the cormel will have become a mature corm. When these corms are planted the following season, they will grow into luxuriant, flower-bearing adult plants.
In temperate climates, planting can begin in the early spring. Planting time is not so critical in warmer climates. Ideally, the cormels and corms should be planted in moist, slightly acidic soil. They should be located where they will get bright sunlight, as gladioli do not do well in shade.
Cormels may be sprinkled into a three-inch-deep [8 cm] furrow and then covered with earth. Corms, on the other hand, should be planted at a depth of five inches [13 cm]. To prevent overcrowding in a home garden, medium-sized corms should be planted about three inches apart and larger corms four to five inches apart. If you clean and plant your gladiolus corms carefully, after a few months, you should be rewarded with an indescribable display—the rich, fragile beauty of the gladiolus.