Byzantine gladiolus, or Corn Flag
I’ve not had much luck with gladiolus here. I’m wondering if I plant them too late. Most Texas gardening advice suggests planting gladiolus corms in succession during April and May, but I almost think they’d do better planted even earlier. Glads are not tender here, and don’t need to be “dug and stored’ as they do in other parts of the U.S. Unfortunately, most bulb sellers don’t start shipping their gladiolus bulbs till April, which doesn’t give me a chance to try planting them earlier. Last year I planted six different kinds of gladiolus corms in April, and most of them just became a big bunch of floppy, ragged leaves with no flowers.
The Byzantine gladiolus, however, is another kind of glad. While many gladioli are native to Africa, the Byzantine species grows around the Mediterranean. Here in Texas the corms are planted in fall (October-ish), and bloom in April, much earlier than other gladioli. And they’re also known as one of the best naturalizing bulbs in Texas. I’ve seen photos of huge stands of these against ranch fences in the country.
The true Byzantine gladiolus is somewhat hard to get, and expensive. As far as I know, only three bulb sellers offer the Texas heirloom, Old House Gardens, Southern Bulbs (where I got mine) and another home-based Texas seller whose name I forget. Most other bulbs advertised as Byzantine glads are not the same girl, at all. If they are inexpensive, chances are they are not the real deal. That may not matter to you. I tried them both. The inexpensive one is smaller-flowered and a very pale pink, whereas the prized Byzantine is a deep and warm magenta, luminous and unmistakeable. One has a sort of wildflower-y grace, the other more of a bold statement.
According to Scott Ogden in Garden Bulbs for the South, the Southern heirloom strain of Gladiolus byzantinus is called “Creuntus”, although it may or may not sell by this name. If you can find one that has been cultivated by Texas growers, you are probably buying the real thing. The “fake” Byzantine is a related Dutch-cultivated species, Gladiolus communis, and is unfortunately often sold with the wrong name and the wrong picture–a picture of her magenta sister–on the package. These mistakes happen innocently in horticulture, I guess, but the Southern heirloom is a much richer gem and has a history of naturalizing in our gardens.
Gladiolus do reproduce like crazy, at least this one does. Dig it up after one year as I did and you will find a number of baby-corms falling off the mother corm. It might take two or three years for a baby corm to become flowering size, but in by then you will have about five or six times as many glads as you started with. Gladiolus leaves will look messy and flop over early on in their life, and I think that planting the corms deeper than is often suggested might help them get a bit more support underground. I tend to plant bulbs too shallow, simply because I hate digging in our soil.
Another gladiolus worth trying in Texas is the white Abyssinian gladiolus, which has a light powdery musk fragrance that fills the evening air. This glad is planted in spring and blooms in fall and I’m about to find out if it will return this year.
The funny thing about these Byzantine gladioli is that they tend to open only one flower on the stalk at a time–so one opens, the one below it withers, the next one above it opens while that one withers, and so on. At any given point there is some withering, which is noticeable when you don’t have a huge clump of them. So for the best effect, it would be nice to have at least 6 or more grouped together.