Gladiolus floribundus Jacq.
Common names: common swordlily
A winter-growing gladiolus with showy spikes of striped, white or pale pink flowers in spring; well suited to winter-rainfall gardens and suitable for containers.
Gladiolus floribundus is a geophyte, which produces corms enclosed within firm tunic layers. The stem is erect and the whole plant grows 150 to 450 mm tall. Its leaves are sword-shaped and about 12 to 20 mm in width. This species produces unscented, funnel-shaped flowers which can be white or light pink, with darker median striped patterning. As the species name suggests, it is free-flowering and the spike can be adorned with up to 10 flowers or more in some instances. Flowering occurs in spring, between late September and November. Bracts are a combination of greyish purple and dull green and 40 to 50 mm long.
Gladiolus floribundus is closely related to G. miniatus, G. grandiflorus and G. rudis and are thought to share a common ancestor because of vegetative similarities, such as being shorter plants and having firm and fibrous tunics surrounding the corms. They differ however, in the appearance of their flowers which show that the four species have adapted to different pollinators. Their habitat ranges also differ for the most part, from clay soils for G. grandiflorus to limestone outcrops where one can find G. miniatus growing.
This species is widespread across the winter-rainfall region of southern Africa and is not threatened, and is therefore assessed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Gladiolus floribundus is distributed across the Cape region, observed growing from the Cederberg in the Western Cape to Alexandria in the Eastern Cape. These plants are usually found to grow on dry clay substrates, limestone outcrops or sandy flats where soil is derived from sandstone.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Gladiolus is derived from the Latin language, meaning ‘sword’. The name was suggested by Pliny (23–79 AD), alluding to the sword-shaped leaves of the plants in this genus. The species name floribundus is also Latin, and means ‘to flower profusely’.
Gladiolus floribundus was first illustrated in Figure of Plants by Phillip Miller in 1755. At this time it was recorded under incorrect polynomial names. Nicholas Jacquin then published a figure of G. floribundus in 1790, initially mistakenly recording it as G. undulatus Linnaeus and then again in 1795 where it was identified as a G. floribundus type. The nomenclatural history of the species was resolved by G.J Lewis in 1972.
The darker median striped patterning in the center of the flower, together with the long perianth tube, reveal the pollination strategy, which is to attract long-tonged flies to pollinate its flowers. Two long-tonged flies, namely Philoliche gulosa and Philoliche rostrata, have been observed doing regular visits and carrying pollen from some Gladiolus floribundus populations.
Despite being a very popular genus for the cut flower industry there are no known ornamental, medicinal or cultural uses of G. floribundus.
Growing Gladiolus floribundus
Gladiolus plants are widely cultivated and even though G. floribundus is not as readily available as other Gladiolus species, it is fairly suitable for cultivation. Gladiolus floribundus is a winter-growing species and can be cultivated in pots in a cold greenhouse. A well-drained growth medium of compost mixed with gritty soil is preferred.
- Almond, J. 2018. Growing southern African Gladiolus. The Plantsman 17(1):10–17.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2005. Gladiolus floribundus Jacq. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2021/02/18
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 1998. Gladiolus in southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
- Manning, J. & Goldblatt, P. 2012. Plants of the Greater Cape Floristic Region 1: the Core Cape Flora. Strelitzia 29. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Threatened Species Unit
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Spring
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average