(Syn. G. natalensis / G. psittacinus / G. quartinianus G.dracocephalus)

  • Parrot-beak Gladiolus
  • Parrot Gladiolus
  • Parrot Lily
  • Sword Lily
  • Natal Lily
  • African Gladiolus
  • African Parrot Gladiola
  • Maid-of-the-Mist
  • Dragon’s-head Lily
  • Papegaai Gladiolus (A)
  • Wildeswaardlelie (A)
  • umnunge (X)
  • Udwendweni (Z)
  • Khahla-e-kholo (SS)
  • Sidvwana (SW)
  • A robust, stately perennial with a comely upright growth habit that produces striking hooded flowers in shades of carmine and yellow throughout the summer months. This is one of the tallest and most renowned of all the Gladioli species and is also officially a protected plant in our country. Over the years this beautiful bulb-like plant has been known by many different names. The Gladiolus genus is fairly extensive, comprising of over 250 species distributed across the globe, with more than 120 species endemic to southern Africa. This spectacular group of flowering perennials has been revered since the 1700’s for their dazzling and versatile floral displays as well as their ease of cultivation and today there are thousands of colour hybrids to choose from; all of them originating from just a handful of native species. Each plant has an underground tuber or corm which gives rise to dusky green, flabelliform leaves which have a rather distinct shape and are the inspiration behind the genus name (Gladiolus is a Latin term that means “a small sword”).
  • Iridaceae – The Iris family.


  • One of the most widespread of the Gladiolus species, found along almost the entire eastern escarpment of our country, as well as some of the central regions, equally at home in wet and dry conditions, although it seems to favour relatively moist, summer rainfall areas.

  • It can be found growing alongside small streams, in dry and wet, marshy grassland situations, woodland, scrubland, as well as on rocky and mountainous terrains.

  • It is only absent in the most arid, karoo-like regions and the winter-rainfall Cape provinces.

  • Populations can be found from the Eastern Cape to Natal, Mpumalanga, The Free State, Northern Cape, parts of Gauteng and the North West, Limpopo, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and further north into tropical Africa, from the coast to elevations of about 2500m.

Foliage & Bulb

  • Deciduous.

  • These plants have a somewhat woody, semi-rotund, underground corm (20 – 40 mm) which is covered with several layers of irregularly spaced, tough or brittle and somewhat leathery, russet or khaki-brown, fibrous to cartilaginous tunics.

  • Numerous small cormlets can often be seen growing around the base.

  • The leaves are produced either at the same time as the flowers or shortly after; arising from separate shoots.

  • A single, typically unbranched stem can support up to 9 slender, uprightly held, elongated, lanceolate to nearly linear leaves (120 – 320 x 10 – 20 mm).

  • These leaves are arranged in a lax fan formation and are partly or sometimes completely ensheathed.

  • Firm-textured, dusky grey-green in colour, with distinctly thickened margins and midribs.

  • The most basal leaf is oftentimes reduced to a cataphyll.


  • Each plant typically produces a vertical flowering spike that can support up to 20 rather large (50 – 80 x 25 – 40 mm), bilaterally symmetrical, somewhat bell-shaped flowers with flaring petals and a “hooded” appearance.

  • The flowers are produced on only one side of the spike.

  • Each flower is subtended by fibrous, greenish-red bracts (25 – 60 mm), the innermost bract generally slightly diminutive.

  • The flowers are either reddish-orange with clear yellow-marked lower tepals, or yellowish-green with fine russet streaks or speckles on the upper parts.

  • The anthers are a dusky amber colour and measure 10 – 16 mm long.

  • Unscented.

  • Flowering time is often dependant on location and rainfall.


  • The fruits of this bulb are in the form of an ellipsoidal capsule (20 – 35 x 10 – 15 mm).

  • Each such capsule contains several pale brown, shiny, broadly winged seeds.

  • The seeds tend to dehisce in a lengthwise manner.


  • 250 – 2000 mm.

  • Extracts of this plant have shown to contain numerous phytochemicals such as alkaloids, saponins, glycosides, tannins and flavonoids, among others, and these help to validate the plants wide use in traditional medicine across the African continent.
  • These biological compounds contribute to the plant’s antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticonvulsant and antimicrobial activities.
  • Extracts (the bulb alone or the bulb in conjunction with other parts of the plant or herbs) are used in various ways (e.g. steeped in water and drunk or dried, pulverized and then sniffed) to treat numerous infectious conditions such as malaria, diarrhoea, dysentery, ulcers, septic wounds, meningitis, throat, ear, eye and nasal passage infections, as well as a wide range of gastric complaints.
  • A powder obtained from the ground corm is used to treat chest complaints, and an infusion is used to bring relief from colds, persistent coughs and rheumatic pains.
  • This same powder is also mixed with milk and used to treat colic.
  • The corm and sometimes the leaves are burnt and the smoke emanating from this is inhaled; it is said to bring relief from blocked nasal passages, colds and headache.
  • A poultice is made from the corms, and this is used to draw out objects in the skin such as thorns and splinters.
  • These dressings are also used against spider and snake bites or insect bites and stings.
  • The bulbs, in various preparations, have also been recorded as being used against dysmenorrhea, arthritis, rheumatism, convulsions, muscle and joint aches as well as certain central nervous system ailments (e.g. epilepsy and mood disorders).
  • It has also been used as a laxative.
  • These plants also provide food.
  • The corms are traditionally boiled and then leeched in water for several days before being eaten.
  • A refreshing beverage is also occasionally made from them.
  • The corms are said to contain high amounts of protein and carbohydrates.
  • The flowers too are eaten; the anthers are typically removed, and the flowers, either fresh or prepared, are added to salads, stews, soups or eaten alone as a vegetable substitute.
  • They also contain copious amounts of nectar and are often imbibed by children.
  • A semi-durable twine has been made from the leaves.
  • Infusions of the corm are used variously as protective, love and lucky charms.
  • The corms have displayed mild cytotoxicity (poisonous) and extreme care should be taken when using or handling.
  • Skin irritation and other allergic responses have been reported.
  • These plants also have the ability to become invasive if left unmanaged and unchecked for extended periods.
  • The Parrot Gladiolus is also highly susceptible to attack from pests (insects, mites etc.) as well as fungal infections; check the entire plant regularly for signs of infestation and treat these immediately.
  • Also remove and discard any affected parts.
  • The flowers, with their tubular structure and profuse amounts of nectar, are highly attractive to nectarivores birds, who are also an important pollinator.
  • The flowers also attract a vast number of insects, bees and butterflies, which may in their turn attract insect-eating birds.
  • Bushpigs are known to dig up and eat the corms.
  • Few plants look as impressive when planted en masse as the Gladioli.
  • They can be used as a stunning background feature or focal specimen and look simply marvellous when planted along a driveway or in a large mixed perennial border.
  • As they can grow quite well in both winter and summer rainfall areas, they are a good choice for rooftop gardens.
  • Excellent container specimens.
  • Generally undemanding, easily cultivated, with eye-catching, vividly coloured, exceptionally cheerful flowers and a clean, vertical growth form, these are the perfect flowers to make a bold yet subtly elegant statement in the garden.
  • They will provide a rich burst of colour all throughout summer and are highly attractive to birds and insects.
  • The flowers are well suited for the vase. Pick the flower spikes just before the top blossoms open. These will open indoors.
  • Currently there are also hundreds of magnificent colour cultivars available of these spectacular flowering perennials.
  • G. dalenii is not exceptionally resilient to cold or drought but can survive most adverse conditions provided these do not last for extended periods of time.
  • If rains are plentiful and the soil is not too fast draining, they will be able to survive through short periods of drought and high temperatures in the summer months when they are most actively growing without too much damage.
  • Overall, G.dalenii prefers, and grows best, with a regular supply of water.
  • Drought tolerance is highest in winter.
  • This species of Gladiolus is not very cold hardy but can survive temperatures as low as 0°c due to its underground corm.
  • Foliage damage may occur under very low temperatures and during sudden frosts, but the plant is generally able to re-sprout as soon as temperatures start to rise.
  • In areas where the winters are known to be very severe, it is better to plant them indoors or in a very sheltered position.
  • Another option in such places is to store the corms overwinter in a frost-free area and plant them out again in spring.
  • A layer of mulch can also be placed around the corms during winter as further protection from the cold.
Growth Rate
  • Moderate to fast – the corms, under ideal conditions, can multiply quite rapidly, especially if left unimpeded.
  • G. dalenii needs a sunny position. It will accept very light, dappled shade, but cannot grow in deep shade.
Soil & Water
  • This plant prefers to grow in a light and airy, sandy, gritty or loamy soil.
  • The soil must have very good drainage and a neutral to slightly acidic ph.
  • They cannot grow in water-retentive clay soils.
  • It dislikes artificial fertilisers, so these should be avoided.
  • Instead, a small amount of bone-meal or mild, organic (slow-release) compost can be added to the soil once in spring.
  • Watering must be consistent, especially in summer, with more on very hot, dry and windy days.
  • Once flowering has occurred, and the colder winter months approach, the plants tend to die back somewhat, and they generally require little to no extra water during this time.
  • Very easily propagated from seed or corm offsets (these typically form at the base of the main corm).
  • Seeds should be sown in spring, into a well-drained medium of washed river sand and organic compost (2:1).
  • Do not place the seeds too deeply in the soil and should be covered with an additional, thin layer of sand.
  • Place the containers or trays in a well-lit, cool but temperate area and keep the soil moist but do not let it become waterlogged.
  • Germination typically occurs within 4-6 weeks.
  • The seedlings must not be disturbed or replanted for at least a year afterwards.
  • Corm offsets should preferably be harvested in autumn when they are dormant.
  • They can be dried out, stored overwinter and replanted in spring, or can immediately be planted.
  • Once planted, they must not be disturbed for 1 – 2 years.
  • Bigger cormlets may be planted out in spring, smaller ones should be grown on for a year or so in a sheltered indoor area before being moved to their permanent homes.