[From the Latin gladius, a sword, in allusion to the shape of the leaves.]
This is called Sword-Lily, Corn-Flag, Corn-Sedge, etc., etc.; in French, le Glaieul. The genus embraces a number of species, some of which are planted in autumn and others in the spring. G. Byzcmtinus, from Turkey, and G. communis, from the South of Europe, with few varieties, have been in cultivation for more than two hundred years; they are raised by the Dutch Florists and sent out annually to their customers with Tulips, Hyacinths, and other bulbs. They are planted in autumn and flower the next June; the colors are purple, red, and white. All the other species have bulbous roots, and require to be taken up in autumn and dried, or kept in pots in the green-house.
Within a few years the Gladiolus has been wonderfully improved by hybridizing; the beautiful varieties, which have been produced by this process, have excited the admiration of the floral world, and now constitute a class of flowers most beautiful, attractive, and popular. Twenty-five years ago, G. cardinalis was considered one of the finest species, and is beautiful and showy, with scarlet and white flowers; but it is a weak growing plant, and too tender for cultivation, except in pots in the greenhouse. It did not, therefore, receive much attention in this country, although in Europe, where it was planted deep in the open ground, and protected by frames in the winter, it succeeded very well and was much admired. This species is now cast in the shade and neglected for the more hardy and showy hybrids. When G.psittacinus was first introduced, about the year 1835, it was considered a great acquisition. It was originally called G. Natalensis, from Natal, its native country, and was then one of our most popular and admired species. Its colors are red, green, and yellow; shaded, striped, or mottled, but very inferior to any of the hybrids. It is a hardy species, and flourishes in almost any good soil, and is very prolific in forming new bulbs. The directions for planting this, will answer for all the hybrid varieties of G. Gandavenis, G. floribundus, and G. ramosus. All are of the simplest culture. The soil should be trenched eighteen inches deep, having been made rich by good decomposed manure, and if the soil is stiff, some sand may be added. The Gladiolus shows to the best advantage when planted in beds four feet wide. The bulbs may be planted any time in May. Seven inches each way is rather too near, although I have planted with good success at that distance; probably a foot apart would be more proper, as some of the plants attain the height of three, four, and even five feet in rich ground. The bulbs should be covered two and one-half inches deep.
Each plant should be supported by a stick or rod, and neatly tied with bass strings, so that it may retain a perpendicular position; the leaves should not be mutilated or cut. In cultivating these varieties and all other bulbous plants, the fact must never be lost sight of, that the bulb is, during the summer, a species of underground continuation of the leaf, while in the winter it is analogous to the bud of a plant; therefore any injury to the leaves, during their growth in summer and autumn, is an injury to the bulb. When the leaves have performed their functions of preparing and elaborating the juices for this subterranean bud or bulb, they die away naturally; leaves of bulbous plants should therefore never be trimmed or cut off, with a view of making them look more sightly, unless they have turned brown. On the other hand, forming and ripening the seed, withdraws considerable nourishment from the bulb; it is, therefore, rather a benefit than an injury to cut the flower, and prevent the seed from coming to maturity; the juices are then diverted from this operation to that of increasing and improving the bulb. These hybrids will commence showing their flowers about the first of August,' and continue to bloom until near the middle of September, depending somewhat upon the time they were planted. If planted before the last of May, the flowers will appear in the strongest heat of the summer, and therefore be more liable to be burnt by the sun. An awning erected over the bed, the same as practiced by florists for Tulips and other flowers, will preserve the colors and bloom much longer. About the first of November, I take up the bulbs in the morning of a pleasant day and leave them on the ground, exposed to the sun through the day, leaving the leaves on; I then take them into a dry airy room, where there is no danger of frost, and spread them on the floor or on benches, and let them dry. As soon as they appear to be cured, the tops are twisted out, the roots pulled apart, the old fibres removed, and the different varieties placed in separate paper bags, where they remain a few days until thoroughly dried; they are then put in boxes and removed to a dry cellar, where they will remain in perfect safety until wanted for planting in the spring. Each variety should have a neat label, with the name, stuck in the ground by the side of the bulb, at the time of planting, and carefully kept with the bulbs when taken up, and placed with them in the bag; there will then be no mistake.
It is not more than twenty years since this very striking variety was introduced into this country from England. We imported two bulbs, for which we paid one guinea; color, superb orange, scarlet, and yellow. This variety was raised as a seedling by Van Houtte, and derives its name from the town of Gand. It is a hybrid between G. psittacinus and some other species, not certainly known.