Distribution and habitatGladiolus dalenii grows in the summer rainfall regions of the Eastern Cape north of East London to southern KwaZulu-Natal, from the coast to as far inland as the Lesotho border. Further north it extends through tropical Africa as far as western Arabia. It is found in open grassland, woodland and scrub and in rocky areas, often among rocks along streams, at altitudes up to 2 500 m.
Over the past two centuries many South African irids have been domesticated and are familiar garden plants, such as gladioli, freesias, crocosmias, ixias and watsonias. Some have been so improved by plant breeders that often it is not easy to associate modern garden hybrids with their humble wild ancestors in the veld. During 1976, 1 100 seeds collected in the wild were deposited at the Wakehurst Place Seed Bank (now the Millennium Seed Bank) in the United Kingdom, to determine whether cold storage of seed as a measure of long-term conservation was possible. This proved successful and tests carried out several years later at the seed bank showed a germination of 99% at 11ºC. Gladiolus dalenii has been successfully cultivated at Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden for many years and is also being grown by several specialist bulb growers in several countries. Ideally its natural habitat should be formally protected, but should this not be possible, ex situ material could possibly be used to re-establish this species elsewhere, in suitable sites.
Gladiolus dalenii and other Gladiolus species are popular garden plants, cultivated in Europe for more than 250 years and renowned for their striking, colourful flowers. But did you know that these garden plants were grown from hybrids of wild gladioli native to South Africa?
Gladiolus dalenii is a deciduous evergreen perennial. It grows up to 2 m tall. Leaves erect, 20 mm wide, grey-green, in a loose fan. It produces five tall flower spikes with up to 7 large, intensely scarlet orange to red or variously coloured, hooded flowers with a bright yellow
Pollinated by sunbirds attracted to the copious nectar. The corms are eaten by bush pigs.
Uses and cultural aspects
Used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea, chest ailments caused by sorcery, sterility in women, as good luck charms and in the horns of inyangas/sangomas. Cultivars developed in Europe in the early 1900s are grown worldwide and have become very successful cut-flowers. The leaves are plaited into ropes.