Gladiolus papilio

John Grimshaw
Tue, 06 Mar 2007 11:37:43 PST
As Tony Avent says, the commonly grown form of G. papilio is not very 
attractive but extremely hardy and vigorous. Anyone who wishes to start a 
breeding programme with it can come and extract a few hundred from the rock 
garden at my parents' garden. I have read that the species was used in early 
breeding work to add purple colours to the large-flowered hybrids, and that 
it also conferred hardines that was bred out (wilfully or otherwise) in 
later generations.

I was astonished by the startling white and red version of the species shown 
in Roy Herold's picture from the Kamsberg - now that really would be worth 
growing! In circulation in the UK are plants named 'Purpureo-auratus 
Group' - this being an invalid synonym for forms with yellow and dull red 
flowers. They are very distinct and much more attractive than the 
afore-mentioned thug. Also less vigorous, and the plant I bought a couple of 
years ago failed to emerge the next spring , I think more likely due to a 
mouse than through tenderness. (I have a picture that I would upload to the 
Wiki if only I could get the thing to do it! Please would some kind person 
let me know what the password is.)

Becoming better known in the UK now is a very fine hybrid (said to have been 
raised in New Zealand) sold as G. papilio 'Ruby', which has velvety quite 
bright red flowers with darker blotches on the lower segments. It seems to 
be quite hardy and is an extremely useful garden plant.

There is no doubt that the options from using G. papilio as a parent are 
vast and it would be great to see more use being made of it.

In the question of the Dutchman's attitude, we have to remember that the 
Dutch bulb-growing community are for the most part interested only in 
farming bulbs - they are not plantsmen, and make no pretence to be so. They 
want a quick, safe return with familiar, growable items. One shudders to 
think at the gems that are discarded because their rate of increase is 

I have to confess that much though I prefer the species, I rather like some 
large-flowered Gladiolus - so long as they have a nice colour. One has to 
think of them in different terms to the species, but they can be extremely 
effective in a mixed border. I had one last year called (at least on the 
packet) 'Mediterranee', with beautiful soft blue-mauve flowers that looked 
fantastic with Agastache 'Blue Fortune' and went on for months as 
inflorescences kept emerging. Another star was 'Emerald Spring' with 
wonderful green flowers, which I defy the most hard-bitten anti-Glad types 
to dislike.

John Grimshaw

Dr John M. Grimshaw
Sycamore Cottage
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9NP


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