#KnowYourFynbos: Gorgeous gladioli

#KnowYourFynbos: Gorgeous gladioli

A couple of months back, on a rainy-day hike in the Elgin area, I was lucky to put my foot down next to an exquisite flower called the Brown Afrikaner (Gladiolus maculatus). The buttercup-yellow and maroon-speckled treasure had popped up right in the middle of a dirt track, a soft silhouette of gentle frilled petals balanced on a fine green stem. As my first positive ID of a gladiolus, it set me on the hunt for some more.

Gladioli bear some of the prettiest flowers in the fynbos, with their soft petals and poised structure, in many ways not dissimilar to orchids. They form part of the iris family (Iridaceae) and are found in Asia, Mediterranean Europe, tropical Africa, and South Africa – but their center of origin and true home is the Cape Floristic Region.1


What to look out for:
  • Sword leaves: The gladiolus’ unbranched stem usually has between one and nine thin, green, sword-shaped leaves with longitudinal grooves down the middle.1
  • Flowers: Wild gladiolus flowers usually reach up to about 40mm in size. They bloom from one-sided flower spikes in a variety of warm colours: red, pink, purple, white, cream and orange – with a multitude of shades and patterned designs in between.1
  • Common species: In and around the Cape Peninsula, keep an eye out for light pink Mountain Ladies (Gladiolus monticola), fiery red orange Good Hope Ladies (Gladiolus bonaspei) and striking Red Afrikaners (Gladiolus watsonius) – not to be confused with the watsonia, hence the namesake.


You might not know:
  • Sword lily: The name ‘gladiolus’ is the diminutive of the Latin word ‘gladius’, meaning ‘sword’ – aptly named, as their leaves are very sword-like indeed!1
  • Corms: Gladioli are similar to bulbs in that they grow from something called a corm, which is a bulb-like, swollen underground plant stem that stores energy and water for the plant to cope in tough, dry or hot conditions.2
  • Gladiolus in the home: Gladioli are popular ornamental flowers for the home. The dramatic, but the giant flower spikes that we see sold commercially are the result of extensive hybridization.1
  • Rare and endangered gems: Two beautiful species, the Grey Afrikaner (Gladiolus griseus)3 and the Golden Gladiolus (Gladiolus aureus), found on the Cape Peninsula are listed as Critically Endangered, and on the verge of extinction in the wild.


  1. Gladiolus [Internet]. En.wikipedia.org. 2017 [cited 25 July 2017]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladiolus
  2. Corm [Internet]. En.wikipedia.org. 2017 [cited 25 July 2017]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corm
  3. Lombard L. PICS: Rare and endangered fynbos discovered in Cape Town [Internet]. Traveller24. 2017 [cited 25 July 2017]. Available from: http://www.traveller24.com/Explore/SAHolidayGuide/pics-rare-and-endangered-fynbos-discovered-in-cape-town-20151116

Kate Black

As the daughter of a wildlife filmmaker, Kate spent her early childhood in the Okavango Delta. Over the years, she has been fortunate to explore many of Southern Africa’s other wild places, contributing to her keen interest in African wildlife conservation. With a career grounded in digital marketing, Kate recently made the decision to work as a freelance communications specialist, with a particular focus on environmental NGOs. An avid trail runner and hiker, she loves the outdoors and the incredible natural diversity that the Western Cape has to offer.

  • Laurence Nicklin

    November 11, 2017 at 12:34 am Reply

    I worked at Kirstenbosch for many years and am always interested in news from the fynbos.

  • Kirsten Packer

    November 16, 2017 at 3:22 pm Reply

    Stunning photograph, thanks for an interesting article

Post a Comment