Gladiolus gandavensis Care Tips and Growing Secrets

The Gladiolus gandavensis, also known as “Sword Lily,” “Gladiolus,” “Cattail Orchid,” or “Water Chestnut Lily,” belongs to the Iridaceae family and is a perennial herb.

This species, originally native to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, was developed through multiple interspecific hybridizations and its cultivated varieties are now distributed worldwide.

The plant features a flowering stalk that rises above the leaves, with a blooming corolla that takes the shape of an inflated funnel.

Gladiolus gandavensis

The flowers come in a variety of colors, including red, yellow, purple, white, and blue, in both solid and multicolored varieties. Its capsules are elliptical or inversely ovate, splitting dorsally as they mature, and its seeds are flattened and winged.

The flowering period is from July to September, and the fruiting period from August to October. Native to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, the Sword Lily is also found in Mediterranean regions like Southern Europe and Western Asia.

It has traditional medicinal uses for detoxifying, promoting blood circulation, reducing swelling, and relieving pain, and can be applied externally for injuries, throat inflammation, mumps, boils, and lymphadenitis.

Gladiolus gandavensis

The Sword Lily is suitable for cut flowers, flower beds, or potting, and due to its high sensitivity to hydrogen fluoride, it can also serve as a bioindicator plant for monitoring pollution.

I. Morphological Characteristics

It is a perennial herb with a flat, rounded corm, typically measuring 2.5-4.5cm in diameter and enveloped in brown or yellow-brown membranous tunics.

The leaves are basal or alternately arranged at the base of the flowering stalk, sword-shaped, 40-60cm in length and 2-4cm wide, with a sheathing base and a gradually tapering tip.

Arranged in two overlapping rows, the leaves are grey-green with several longitudinal veins and a conspicuous midrib.

Gladiolus gandavensis

The flower stalk is erect, 50-80cm tall, unbranched, with several alternately arranged leaves at its lower part; the raceme is scorpion-tail shaped, about 25-35cm long, with each flower subtended by two bracts.

These are membranous, yellow-green, ovate or broadly lanceolate, 4-5cm long and 1.8-3cm wide, with a distinct midrib.

Flowers are produced singly within the bracts, bilateral symmetrical, available in colors like red, yellow, white, or pink, with a diameter of 6-8cm.

The perianth tube is about 2.5cm long and curved at the base, with six tepals arranged in two whorls; both inner and outer whorls consist of ovate or elliptical segments, the top three being slightly larger (two outer and one inner tepals), with the topmost inner tepal particularly broad, curved into a hood shape.

It has three erect stamens adhering to the inside of the hood-shaped inner tepal, about 5.5cm long, with purplish-red or deep purple anthers and white filaments attached to the perianth tube.

The style is approximately 6cm long, with a trifurcated tip, slightly flattened and swollen stigma with short pubescence, and the ovary is elliptical, green, with three locules and numerous ovules on a central placenta.

The capsule is elliptical or inversely ovate, splitting dorsally when mature, with flattened, winged seeds. The flowering period occurs from July to September, and the fruiting period from August to October.

II. Growing Environment

The Sword Lily prefers warm climates but does not thrive in excessive heat and is not frost-tolerant. The optimal growing temperature is between 20°C and 25°C. Corms can sprout in soil temperatures above 5°C.

It is a typical long-day plant, with long daylight hours facilitating flower bud differentiation. Insufficient light can reduce the number of flowers; however, after flower bud differentiation, short-day conditions are beneficial for bud formation and can hasten blooming.

The bulbs of summer-flowering varieties must be stored indoors over winter, with room temperatures not dropping below 0°C.

For cultivation, fertile sandy loam is preferred, with a pH value not exceeding 7. The Sword Lily is particularly fond of fertilizer; phosphorus enhances flower quality, and potassium improves the quality of the corms and the number of offsets.

III. Distribution Range

The Sword Lily is originally from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and is also found in the Mediterranean areas of Southern Europe and Western Asia.

It is mainly produced in the United States, the Netherlands, Israel, and Japan. The Sword Lily is cultivated throughout China.

This plant is a hybrid species, possibly derived from the crossbreeding of South African G. psittacinus Hook. and G. cardinalis Curt. or a subsequent mix with G. oppositiflorus Herb.

It is widely cultivated across China, and in some areas of Guizhou and Yunnan, it has become semi-wild.

IV. Growth and Propagation

Division Propagation

After a year of cultivation, an Agapanthus parent bulb typically yields 1 to 2 marketable bulbs and numerous offshoots. After grading, bulbs with a circumference of over 8 cm are sent directly to market, while those under 8 cm are further cultivated in three sizes.

The larger offshoots range from 4 to 8 cm in circumference, medium ones are between 2 to 4 cm, and the small ones are less than 2 cm. Smaller bulbs better retain the genetic traits of the variety but require a longer cultivation period.

Larger bulbs, having the capacity to bloom, deplete nutrients excessively, resulting in poorer quality marketable bulbs. Hence, medium offshoots are preferred for cultivating marketable bulbs.

It is noteworthy that bigger is not always better for marketable bulbs; ideally, they should be round, full, and firm. Bulbs that are large and flat with a softer texture tend to produce cut flowers of inferior quality.

For medium and large bulbs, the trench planting method is used, with trenches approximately three times the diameter of the bulb, and the spacing between plants adjusted according to the size of the bulb.

Small bulbs are sown by broadcasting them into trenches, while very small bulbs are usually directly scattered. Before sowing, a substantial amount of base fertilizer should be applied, ensuring it does not come into direct contact with the bulbs.

Water management post-sowing is crucial—water only when necessary, keeping the soil neither too dry nor too wet. To maximize the yield of cut flowers per unit area, rows should be as close together as possible without hindering the harvest.

Section Propagation

For rapid propagation of certain rare varieties, a full and healthy marketable bulb can be cut into 2 to 4 pieces, each piece ensuring a portion of the root plate and a complete, full bud for offspring propagation.

To prevent rot, the cut surface should be treated with charcoal powder or wood ash and planted immediately.

Tissue Culture Propagation

Tissue culture is used to rejuvenate conventional Agapanthus varieties, as long-term asexual reproduction can lead to significant varietal mixing and degeneration.

Regular tissue culture is necessary to detoxify and revitalize the plants. Petals and lateral buds can serve as explants.

After disinfection and inoculation, they are cultivated at 25°C with 2000 lux lighting, undergoing induction, subculturing, and rooting to produce seedlings.

These seedlings are further cultivated to produce tube bulblets. After hardening off and two years of planting, the bulblets grow into mother bulbs, which are then disease-free seed bulbs.

V. Main Value

Medicinal Value

Functions and Indications

Agapanthus is used for its detoxifying and blood circulation-improving properties, reducing swelling and pain. It is applied for injuries, throat swelling, and pain. Externally, it is used to treat mumps, sores, and lymphadenitis.


Internally, 3 to 6 grams are infused in liquor or the powder is blown into the throat; externally, an appropriate amount is mashed and applied, or the juice is ground and smeared on the affected area.

Ornamental Value

Agapanthus is used as cut flowers, for flower beds, or potted plants. Its sensitivity to hydrogen fluoride also makes it an indicator plant for monitoring pollution.

The aesthetic appeal of Agapanthus lies not only in its form and charm but also in its symbolic meaning.

The color palette is diverse: reds are regal and majestic; pinks are delicate and translucent; whites are pure and graceful; purples are vibrant and enchanting; yellows are noble and elegant; oranges are lovely and bright; violets are elegant and refined; blues are dignified and clear; smoky hues have an antique charm; and the mixed colors resemble fluttering butterflies.

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