by Jim Murrain
The familiar Gladiolus is a well known member of the Iris Family. Most species and hybrids are from southern Africa and not hardy in much of North America. However, there are the less well known European Glads that are remarkably cold tolerant. With the exception of G. italicus which is easily obtained at any garden center in the Fall, the other species are unfortunately somewhat rare.
The largest and showiest in my garden is Gladiolus byzantinus. It is over three feet in hight and has large colorful flowers. There is more than a bit of name confusion surrounding this species and the next one I will show. They will often be listed as Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus or Gladiolus byzantinus ssp. communis.
A close second for height and show is Gladiolus communis. It is very similar to the previous Glad but flowers a week or two later in Kansas City.
The easiest to obtain of all hardy Glads is Gladiolus italicus, in fact it is often the species you receive when you purchase corms or seeds regardless of the name given. Seed exchanges run by SIGNA (Species Iris Group of North America) and NARGS (North American Rock Garden Society) are your best bet to get the correct named plants although not guaranteed.
Gladiolus italicus 'Texas Snowflurry'
There are few color forms available although the shade can vary between different seedlings. I obtained 'Texas Snowflurry' through Plant Delights a few years ago. I have yet to capture a good photo of it as it needs dividing badly and flowering has suffered.
A shorter, front of the bed Glad, is Gladiolus illyricus. Possibly one of the hardiest members of this group it suffers from fewer flowers although it makes up for that as it is a very good grower.
These and maybe a few other species are hardy to at least USDA z5. I have tried to ID what I grow but am not 100% sure if all are correct. I have yet to grow Gladiolus palustris, the most northerly of the European Gladiolus. All flower in mid to late Spring and peak just as the Tall Bearded irises are beginning to wane.
I hope I have piqued your interest and an increased demand for the hardy Glads may spur an enterprising nursery to offer a wider variety.
One final note, these all prefer to be planted in the Fall as do most hardy bulbs.