Gladiolus – Symbolism and Meaning

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One of summer’s most bountiful flowers, gladiolus is known for its dramatic stalks of brightly colored blooms, with frilled or ruffled petals and sword-like leaves. Here’s a closer look into the significance and practical uses of these colorful blooms.

About the Gladiolus Flower

Pink gladiolus flower

Native to Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean region, gladiolus is the genus of flowering plants of the Iridaceae family. Most varieties of gladioli are believed to be hybridized from the Gladiolus dalenii, which originated in South Africa and was brought to England in the early 1700s. These flowers are grown from bulblike structures, called corms, and can reach up to 6 feet in height.

Derived from Latin gladius, that means sword gladiolus features blade-like leaves; hence, it’s also called the sword lily. In ancient Greece, the flower was referred to as xiphium, from the Greek word xiphos, which also means sword. Typically blooming  in the summer, these trumpet-shaped flowers can be seen in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and pink.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Gladiolus Flower

The gladioli has become associated with various folklore and rituals in different cultures and regions. Here are some of the symbolic meanings of the flower:

  • Moral Integrity – Did you know these flowers were associated with the gladiators of Rome? Legend says that crowds would shower the winning gladiators with gladiolus flowers. Also, it’s believed the fighters wore the flower’s corms during battles to protect them from death. Most likely, it’s because of its resemblance to swords.
  • Strength of Character – Gladioli can serve as a token of encouragement to someone who needs strength in times of adversity. Also, it can be given to those who’ve achieved milestones and success in life.

The gladiolus grew abundantly in the Holy Land, and many believe they’re the lilies of the field Jesus mentioned in his Sermon on the Mount. This connection suggests that one must avoid being extremely anxious in life, which likely contributes to its symbolic meaning.

  • “You pierce my heart” – Due to its sword-like leaves, the flower became associated with infatuation. Victorians used the gladiolus to pierce someone’s heart with its beauty, and express ardent love.
  • The flower can also symbolize love at first sight, sincerity, and remembrance.
Gladiolus flower symbolism

However, there’s no specific meaning attributed to the flower based on its color. If you want to send messages of friendship, love, and appreciation, here are some of the meaning associated with the color of any bloom, including gladiolus:

  • Red – Just like other red flowers, red gladiolus symbolizes love and passion. Some express their love with bouquets of red gladioli for Valentine’s Day instead of red roses.
  • Yellow – In general, the color represents happiness, joy, and friendship, which makes yellow gladiolus a perfect gift for your best friend. Also, its cheery and bright hue can make someone’s day more special.
  • Purple – Since the color symbolizes royalty, grace, and beauty, purple gladioli are perfect for anyone who loves luxury.
  • Pink – If you want to express your deep admiration for someone, think of pink gladiolus.
  • White – In most contexts, white symbolizes innocence and purity, making white gladiolus the highlight in bridal bouquets and flower arrangements.

Uses of the Gladiolus Flower throughout History

These flowers have been used as a source of food and medicine for centuries.

In Medicine

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During the 16th century in Europe, the roots of the gladiolus flower were used to draw out splinters, boils, and abscesses. By the 19th century, it became popular in America—and American Gladiolus Society was established to study the plant for its medicinal uses.

According to 100 Edible and Healing Flowers, the ethnic groups of Southern Africa, particularly the Sotho and Zulu people, have used the corms of gladioli to treat diarrhea. In KwaZulu-Natal, its leaves and corms are a common remedy to relieve coughs and colds. Also, the flower itself can be used to treat blisters, cuts, and scratches.

In Gastronomy

In Africa, the corms of gladiolus, especially the Gladiolus dalenii, have been used as food, which are said to taste like chestnuts when roasted. In Congo, it’s commonly boiled, and is a major source of carbohydrates in their diet.

In other parts of the world, the gladiolus flowers are often incorporated in salads, bean stews, sandwiches, scones, muffins, and breads. Also, it’s used as an interesting garnish in savory or sweet spreads and mousses.

In Arts

Vincent van gogh gladiolus
Vase with Red Gladioli – Vincent Van Gogh

The gladiolus has been a subject in various paintings including the Vase with Red Gladioli in 1886 by Vincent van Gogh, as well as the Gladiole by Philipp Ernst.

The Gladiolus Flower in Use Today

Today, these flowers are prized for their beauty, adding drama to the landscape. Colorful gladioli are a perfect addition to gardens and sunny borders, with its eye-catching ruffled blossoms. They can also make your indoor space more inviting, be it via a simple flower arrangement or a lush bouquet.

For floral decorations at weddings, they’re often used in centerpieces and arm sheath bouquets, giving a more summery feel to the occasion.

Also, the gladiolus is regarded as the birth flower of August, making it a perfect addition to birthday gifts for August babies. It’s also associated with the 40th wedding anniversary.

In Brief

Flowers are known for having their own language, and gladiolus can be a great way to express your love and appreciation. As a symbol of integrity, strength of character and ardent love, they make flower arrangements and bouquets more meaningful. These blooms also fill our summer gardens with beautiful, bright colors.