Gladiolus hybrids history
Wed, 24 Aug 2005 04:51:20 PDT
As I mentioned in my last post on the subject, there is a useful chapter in
Goldblatt's book 'Gladiolus in Tropical Africa' on 'Development of the
garden Gladiolus'. To continue this discussion I will briefly summarise the
steps as recorded by Goldblatt.

The first Gladiolus hybrids were raised by Dean Herbert (he of the Herbert
Medal) in the 1820s, producing hybrids between various Cape species,
including hardy ones derived from G. angustus, G. cardinalis, G. carneus and
G. tristis, and tender winter-growing ones. Some were named and distributed
to nurseries.
[The cultivation of Cape plants was common then, much more so than today,
and gardeners & nurseries grew vast ranges of South African plants,
including, inter alia, Erica, which were also hybridised. Who now grows a
South African heather?]

Others also started breeding Gladiolus, including Colville's of Chelsea, who
crossed G. cardinalis and G. tristis to make G. x colvillei,  described in
1826 and still cultivated. Then G. oppositiflorus was brought in and this
crossed with the hybrid G. cardinalis x cruentus produced something known as
G. ramosus. This lot were then further interbred to create something called
G.nanus, a name that still appears in catalogues for smaller flowered

This was the state of play in 1837 when the first cross was made with G.
dalenii in Belgium - a heady mix of genes already swirling about. These
hybrids then became the G. xgandavensis we've been discussing. To try to pin
down any generalised, ideal G. x gandavensis would I think be difficult; it
would have been much better if van Houtte had just called them Ghent Hybrids
rather than giving them the misleading Latin epithet (Ganda is Latin for
Ghent, still used in this form for the local delicious dry-cured ham, akin
to that from Parma, Gand = Ghent in French; in Flemish it is Gent, but in
English we put in an h to get the right sound, sort of. A visit to this
charming Flemish town is greatly to be recommended.)

Goldblatt says: "Many new hybrid strains were produced in following years by
crossing the "gandavensis" hybrids with other cultivars." and suggests that
G. ramosus was one of these important parents.

In 1870 Victor Lemoine, the great French nurseryman, obtained G. papilio and
used that for breeeding in blotches of deep purple, the resulting plants
being known as G. x lemoinei. They were hardy, but this attribute was
overlooked. Lemoine crossed his plants further with G. saundersii to make G.
x nanceianus (the Lemoine nursery being at Nancy). The German plantsman Max
Leichtlin also crossed G. x gandavensis with G. saundersii and developed
large-flowered plants with pale blotches on the lower segments. These were
sold to the American nuseryman John Lewis Childs in 1891 and it was from
this stock that most large-flowered Gladiolus were derived.

Greenish, brownish and purple shades apparently came from a green G.
dalenii, used by Lemoine. Yellow came, as previously discussed from the form
of G. dalenii then called G. primulinus, c. 1890. Goldblatt writes: "The use
of this plant appears to have been the last time wild stock was used in the
breeding of the large-flowered Gladiolus cultivars. Back-crossing among the
existing hybrid strains now yields the variabuility and novelty we see today
in markets."

Other crosses of wild species have been made since and it seems to me that
there is a lot of scope for breeeding with wild species to create (hopefully
hardy) plants of more charm than the big hybrids, but with the same colour
range. Some years ago, at a big flower show in Holland, I saw some gorgeous,
graceful Gladiolus hybrids raised in Israel, but they have never surfaced in
the trade. They may be too slow to multiply, or prone to disease, for
commercial use - but many plantspeople would love to have them.

John Grimshaw

Dr John M. Grimshaw
Garden Manager, Colesbourne Gardens

Sycamore Cottage
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9NP
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jim McKenney" <>
To: "'Pacific Bulb Society'" <>
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2005 1:57 PM
Subject: Re: [pbs] Gladiolus xgandavensis

> John, you mentioned something in passing which intrigues me. I was under
> impression that Gladiolus xgandavensis was the first group of hybrid
> glads. But you say that Gladiolus xgandavensis was itself crossed " with
> existing garden hybrids, already a melange of genes from G.
> G. cardinalis, G. cruentus and possibly others. So one can surmise that
> original Ghent gladiolus were already diverse in the 1840s when they were
> distributed by the van Houtte nursery;"
> In other words, Gladiolus xgandavensis was not the first group of hybrid
> gladiolus? Can you tell us more about this? For instance, do those earlier
> hybrids have group names? Also, was Gladiolus xgandavensis produced by
> crossing two wild Gladiolus, or did it arise by crossing then existing
> hybrids with Gladiolus dalenii? And are you saying that the original
> which produced Gladiolus xgandavensis were soon supplanted by hybrids
> between the original xgandavensis hybrids and then existing hybrids, these
> more highly hybridized plants being the ones introduced by van Houtte as
> Gladiolus xgandavensis of commerce?
> I'm not trying to put you on the spot; no one may ever know the answers to
> some of those questions. But in pointing out the existence of hybrids
> earlier than Gladiolus xgandavensis, you have caused me to rethink my
> understanding of these earliest stages of hybrid Gladiolus development.
> Jim McKenney
> Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I would like very
> to acquire stock of Gladiolus 'Green Woodpecker'.
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