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A Guide to the Gladiolus — August’s Birth Flower

Close up on gladioli flowers

It’s almost impossible to glance at gladioli without feeling a surge of joy. August’s birth flower is a dynamic beauty — the kind that makes you stop and marvel at the wonders of mother nature. A member of the iris family, the gladiolus is exquisite, with a tall and showy silhouette brimming with vibrant blooms.

The plants are commanding, thanks to their pointy shape. It’s that unmistakable structure that earned them their name, which is taken from the Latin gladius, or little sword. True to form, the plant stands constantly at attention, its lean and clean lines setting it apart from other botanical beauties.

A Guide to the Gladiolus

  1. History of the Gladiolus
  2. Symbolism & Meaning of the Gladiolus
  3. A Celebration of the Gladiolus
  4. Appearances of the Gladiolus
  5. How to Care for the Gladiolus

History of the Gladiolus

When in Rome, do as your fellow gladiators do. It seemed the swordsmen did just that, as they were said to have donned the flowers while in combat to protect them from harm. Other lore credits the popularity of gladiolus to Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher and naturalist who is known for penning the encyclopedia Naturalis Historia. The name was a natural fit due to the sharp leaves that reminded him of a sword.

Gladiolus flowers may even have played a role in celebrations. It’s said that spectators would throw them into the air and on the gladiators to honor victories, a practice that even the Dutch maintained well into the 1950s to recognize the achievements of their athletes. The phrase “de dood of de gladiolen,” which means to “death or the gladioli,” and broadly referenced as “all or nothing,” was thought to be coined by a Dutch road racer named Gerrie Knetemann.

Symbolism & Meaning of the Gladiolus

The gladiolus is spectacular in appearance — and just as impressive in its meaning. Deeply linked to the prowess of gladiators, the flower is symbolic of endurance, integrity, and strength. Interestingly, the flower’s unique shape also informs another meaning — infatuation. When you present someone with this sharp bloom, you’re telling them that they’ve “pierced” your heart!

The beauty of the gladiolus extends far beyond the obvious ties to its past. This is among the most expressive plants in the world, and it’s also symbolic of traits like loyalty, integrity, remembrance, and strong character. Available in an array of colors, the gladiolus also takes on individual meaning based on those hues. Red gladioli represent passionate love, while yellow is symbolic of friendship. Pink reflects maternal instincts and compassion. Purple is symbolic of grace and a little bit of mystery, and white expresses purity and innocence.

Celebration of the Gladiolus

They’re enormous. They can be a little stiff. They’re often associated with arrangements from a different era. But the truth is that the gladiolus is about as everlasting and important a flower as the planet has ever produced. It’s graceful, elegant, and available in many different varieties. It’s no wonder that it’s the official birth flower for August! By their very nature, those born during one of the hottest months of the year are known for their charisma and outgoing personality. The same traits are often linked to gladioli, a truly fearless variety.

The gladiolus is also traditionally given to couples celebrating their 40th anniversary. Given that the flower is associated with enduring love and infatuation, it’s a fitting choice for the couple who have spent at least four decades together. Why not surprise them with a lavish arrangement brimming with red? It’s perfect to put on display thanks to its elaborate appearance.

Appearance of the Gladiolus

“Glads” are marvelous in so many ways. The average plant has the potential to grow anywhere from two to five feet tall. Even the flowers vary in size; some are compact little trinkets that measure no more than three inches all around, while others are far more substantial and measure about five inches wide.

If you have tall gladioli, you will need to stake them for security. The beauty of this plant is that it serves as a barrier or shield of sorts. It makes a beautiful addition to the back of your garden, where it adds an eye-catching focal point to your outdoor space. Choose a variety of colors to create a fresh and contemporary design or select hues that complement smaller flowers in your garden beds for a cohesive look.

How to Care for the Gladiolus

If you’re the lucky recipient of gladiolus or you’ve treated yourself to this beautiful flower, these maintenance tips will help you nurture them so they last as long as possible. Begin by placing them in a clean vase in clean, lukewarm water. Find a spot where they can enjoy exposure to full sunlight, which is ideal for ensuring they thrive. While they won’t wilt in partial shade, you’ll notice they look more vibrant and lively in the sunshine.

Assess the condition of the arrangement at least every couple of days. Look for signs of fading and discoloration, and remove any flowers that don’t look as robust as the others. Be mindful of any foliage that may otherwise be submerged in the water, too. Remove these leaves, or you risk dealing with unexpected rot that affects the health of the stem and the integrity of the water.

Cut at least an inch off the bottom at an angle, which allows the stems to soak up as much moisture as possible. Use a non-serrated blade, as any ragged or frayed cuts could cause premature decay. The idea is to produce as clean and flawless a cut as possible. To avoid dealing with possible air bubbles that may otherwise prevent the flowers from absorbing moisture, keep them submerged in water while you cut.

Then pour out the old water and replace it with fresh, lukewarm water when you’re done examining the arrangement. For optimal results and to protect the integrity of the stems, rinse them out before you put them back in the vase. That will minimize any bacteria or debris they may have picked up during this time. Add flower food to the vase, and repeat this entire process regularly to get the most out of your gladioli.

Ideally, aim to purchase gladioli when the blooms haven’t yet opened fully. That will give you or your recipient more time to nurture them and enjoy their beauty. Keep in mind, too, that sunlight is your gladioli’s best friend. However, when the flowers open, you can move the arrangement away from sources of heat and direct light, including windows and space heaters. A spot with indirect light is ideal, so long as the plant has a chance to catch some rays. Otherwise, you risk dealing with dehydrated flowers. As always, if you notice any damage to specific stems, simply pluck them away to prevent them from harming the rest of the arrangement.

Give Gladioli During the Month of August

Whether you’re an August baby and the lucky recipient of gladioli, celebrating your 40th anniversary, growing this stunner in your garden, or just treating yourself or someone you love, you can enjoy its beauty so much more knowing that it played such an integral role in world history — and that it’s so meaningful on so many levels.

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