The Lily & Sword in the Last Judgment

Recently a reader sent a question to TIA asking about the symbolism surrounding Our Lord in the painting The Last Judgment by the Flemish painter Hans Memling (1435-1494), which you can see below. He asked: What is the deeper meaning behind these symbols and postures? I am answering this question here.

The Last Judgment Triptych, Hans Memling – for a larger picture click here

Our Lord is shown seated on an arch in the center of the canvas, and from His mouth a stalk with a lily floats to His right, and to His left a fiery sword. The reader noted that there are several different paintings with a similar depiction, such as the picture used as illustration in the article The Medicine of Mercy by Robert Banaugh posted on our website.
I am quite pleased to provide some information about the symbolism in the Last Judgment Triptych by Memling. It offers me the opportunity to explain the rich Catholic teaching that Medieval and Renaissance artists so masterfully embedded in their works.
Here, Memling depicts Christ in the Maiestas Domini (majesty of the Lord) seated on a golden bow representing the whole created universe; His feet rest on a globe representing the earth, man’s part of all Creation.
The bow also surrounds earth like a rainbow, the symbol of the covenant God made with Noah after the Deluge as a sign of His mercy after having manifested His justice.
Christ seated on a bow signifies that God the Father fulfilled His covenant to redeem man by sending His Son Jesus Christ, who purchased redemption for man by His life, Crucifixion and Resurrection.
The Angels on either side of Christ carry the symbols of His Passion: the Cross, the pillar and scourge, the crown of thorns, the hammer and nails, the lance and vinegar-soaked sponge. With these instruments of the Passion, Christ made our redemption. Thus, the Angels carry them with an enormous respect. According to St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, at the end of the world the Angels will keep these precious relics of the Passion, which will be the only things to survive the destruction of earth.
The lily and sword that emerge from the mouth of Christ can seem strange to our eyes. But the symbolism was well understood by Catholics of the 15th century.
Our Lord presides over the Last Judgment as the Supreme Judge. The lily to His right symbolizes His mercy and mirrors the palm-up blessing of His right hand. The sword to His left symbolizes His justice and is accompanied by the palm-down condemnation of His left hand. Thus, Our Lord represents the Judge who deals out the perfect justice and the perfect mercy.
The saved and the condemned
Between Heaven and Earth, Angels are blowing the trumpets announcing the Last Judgment. On the side of the lily and upraised palm of Christ, we find those who find mercy.
At the right of St. Michael, an Angel in blue and a black devil are still fighting over one soul, but the viewer feels certain of mercy’s victory since the battle is taking place on the side of the saved. The triptych’s panel at Christ’s right shows the entrance of Heaven, reserved for the elect.

The Hell panel in Memling’s Last Judgment

Beneath the sword and palm-down hand of Christ are the condemned who moan in despair at their sentence. Here justice prevails and all is barren and bleak. The brown bare earth on this side of the panel contrasts with the verdant green grass on the side of the saved. Every detail carries a meaning.
In the center of the judgment on earth stands the Archangel Michael in 15th-century armor. In his left hand he carries a balance scale, which tips in favor of the righteous side of the man knelt in prayer.
The scale was often used in medieval judgment scenes, referring to Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall at King Belshazzar’s feast where he read, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (5:27). For the soul of the just man has more substance and weight than that of the unrighteous man. In the scale the good and bad side of a man are being judged.
In his right hand St. Michael carries a ferula surmounted by a jeweled cross.
At St. Michael’s left, other damned souls thrash and groan as, mocked by devils, they realize their fate: the Hell depicted on the right panel. They are damned to hellfire, separated forever from the Way, the Truth and the Life that they rejected on earth.
Dante’s description of Hell in The Divine Comedy influenced Memling, as it did for so many other artists for centuries, until the modern sentiment that such scenes might frighten children prevailed and these paintings were “hidden” in museums and private collections, away from the daily lives of the people.
This is in fact what happened to Memling’s Last Judgment. Providence brought this grand triptych to Poland when the galleon on which it was being transported to Pisa was captured in 1473 in a sea battle. The captain landed the ship in Danzig and gave the triptych to St. Mary’s Church. There it remained until its removal to the city museum after World War II.
The just souls, Our Lady & the Apostles
On the left panel, we find the just souls – led by a Pope, a Cardinal and a Bishop – who are greeted by St. Peter at Heaven’s Gate. The Angels clothe them with celestial garments before they enter Heaven.

The just greeted by St. Peter at Heaven’s gates

In Medieval art we often find naked men and women depicted in scenes of the Last Judgment. In a world still unmarked by the Freudian sexual revolution, such depictions had no immoral or pornographic connotations.
The medieval man knew that he was as naked in death as at birth, that he appears before God at Judgment without any rich apparel or possessions to speak in his favor, as wealth often does at earthly courts. In death, only faith and good works count and, of course, devotion to the great Mediatrix Our Lady.
Our gaze turns upward again and, there in the central panel, we find the Mother of Our Lord kneeling in prayer at His right side. She is in Flemish costume, following the medieval trend to dress the Saints in regional apparel. Also surrounding Christ on both sides are the 12 Apostles and a kneeling St. John the Baptist, who intercede for the human souls.

Even without their emblems, the Apostles would have been recognized by the medievals: the beardless brown-haired apostle John at the side of Our Lady, the also beardless doubting Thomas making his profession of faith with hand over his heart; St. Paul with red hair and beard placed prominently next to St. John the Baptist; St. Simon with his high forehead and balding grey hair and beard as compared to the contemplative St. Matthew with a full head of white hair and beard, and so on.
The Apostles and Saints were as familiar to the faithful of this blessed time as their relatives. In medieval Christendom man had an intimacy with Heaven that has sadly been lost with the so-called progress of the modern world.
As we see plainly, the triptych was more than a simple artistic masterpiece; it was also a magnum opus in pedagogy, instructing the people in the truths of the Faith. Right and wrong are black and white in the Middle Ages: The good receive the eternal reward, the evil are condemned to Hell.
What we find in Memling’s Last Judgment is Faith depicted in art. Today, unfortunately, the symbolism in the painting is barely understood because the Faith has been set aside or, worse yet, distorted. Mercy, justice and truth have been blurred by relativism and perverted by the New Theology that has openly reigned since Vatican II.

Another 15th century Last Judgment with the lily and sword, German school

Posted January 27, 2016id=”sitation”>

Colorful gladiolas have colorful stories behind their names. Find out what these are and the different types of these August flowers.

Gladiolus flowers belong to the iris family and has 260 species — 250 of which originated in sub-Saharan Africa while 10 from Eurasia. The flowers are famous for their distinct sword-shaped leaves for which it got its name. It literally means a little sword in Latin while its ancient name Xiphium is the Greek word for sword.

Though unrelated, it’s also been referred to as Sword Lily or Corn Lily. Gladiolus also used to represent the Roman Gladiators or more specifically, their swords.

Abyssinian Sword Lily (Gladiolus callianthus murielae)

Getting up to 3 feet in height, this type of gladiola has a star-like shape and petals that are bright-white in color with deep-purple blotches at the heart. They bloom in late-Summer or early-Fall, and they are graceful and elegant-looking. The winner of several international flower awards, this flower should be planted after the frost in the Spring, and it does best in soil that is not allowed to get dry.

Adrenaline

With deep-green, sword-shaped leaves, the Adrenaline has petals that are pale-pink flushed with rose-pink and yellow centers that make them truly eye-catching. The stems are sturdy and upright, and they grow up to 40 inches high, making them truly noticeable. This type of gladiola blooms in early-Summer, and it makes an ideal cut plant to place in vases. In addition, it needs consistent moisture and full sun to look its best, and planting them in groups of five or more makes for a very attractive garden.

Albus (Gladiolus x colvillii)

A type of gladiola or sword lily, this flower is pure-white in color and is trumpet-shaped. With delicate yellow marks on the lower petals and bluish anthers, they have been around since the early 1870s and bloom in early-Summer. They grow up to 20 inches tall and make perfect border plants, and the best zones for planting them are zones 8-10. They are also easy to grow as long as you follow certain protocol, such as keeping the soil moist and well-drained.

Atom

Only in existence since 1946, this type of gladiola has up to 7 bright-red flowers per stem, and each petal has an elegant silver-white trim on it. It has deep-green leaves that are striking in contrast to the bright-red blooms, and it can grow up to 3 feet in height. It looks amazing in a garden or in a vase, and it does best in full sun and well-drained but moist soil. Plant them close together for a more beautiful look, and you can reduce your watering once the plants start to bloom.

Ben Venuto

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With large, eye-catching, coral-pink petals and creamy-white hearts, this type of gladiola is ideal for cutting and placing in vases or containers. The blossoms are elegantly ruffled on the tips, and each flower can grow up to 23 buds. Best when planted in full sun, the Ben Venuto blooms profusely and quickly, and it grows up to 5 feet in height. Perfect for borders and gardens of any size, the flower does well in zones 2-10, and it can handle any type of soil except clay.

Blue Moon

The Blue Moon gladiolas are able to bring a calm feeling to your garden with their various shades of blue and purple, and they do best in zones 3-10. They get up to 5 feet high and do best in full sun if you want them to look their prettiest. Hummingbirds love them, and they bloom from mid-Summer to the first frost. They also look beautiful in vases and containers. They are also easy to grow and resistant to deer.

Byzantine Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis ssp Byzanthinus)

With narrow, sword-shaped leaves and petals that are funnel-shaped and magenta in color, this gladiola blooms in late-Spring to early-Summer and gets up to 3 feet high. Each petal is about 2 inches wide, and there are roughly 15 of them on each stem. In addition, they are great for beds and borders, and they gradually spread into large clumps. They need to be planted in the Fall, and they need winter mulch to keep them warm if you live in an area that gets too cold.

Charm

A striking plant with petals of bright purplish-pink and blotches of white, this type of gladiola includes sword-shaped, deep-green leaves that perfectly complement its petals. It blooms in early-Summer and gets up to 30 inches high. It also works best if you give it plenty of sun and moist, but well-drained soil. The Charm does well in most growing zones, and it is most attractive when planted in groups of five or more plants.

Charming Beauty

This flower has long-lasting blooms and petals that are soft-pink in color and have a white throat. Perfect in well-drained but moist soil and when grown in full sun, the Charming Beauty gets up to 30 inches tall and has blooms that have up to 7 flowers per stem. It is spectacular enough to be placed in a vase by itself, but it looks fantastic with other plants as well. Also known as a sword lily, this type of gladiola looks great when planted in groups of five or more, and they bloom profusely in early-Summer.

Costa

The Costa has beautiful white petals with lilac-purple flushes throughout, and the petals are gently ruffled and elegant-looking. Ideal for use in vases and containers, the flower has narrow, dark-green leaves that complement the color of the blooms, and it can handle any type of soil except for clay. If you plant them close together, they portray a more dense, full look that is truly eye-catching, and they can be started indoors if the first frost hasn’t occurred.

Elvira

If you love colors such as pink and red, the Elvira is for you. Its petals are pale-pink in color with flushes of red throughout them, and they grow 6 or so flowers per stem. Growing up to 30 inches in height, this plant blooms in early-Summer and does great in full sun and moist but well-drained soil. It makes beautiful borders and looks fantastic in containers or vases, and it is simply stunning with planted in large groups with other gladiolas.

Forte Rosa

This is a striking gladiola that has soft peach-colored petals and erect, deep-green leaves. The plant itself grows up to 5 feet high, and although it looks great on its own – especially when planted in groups of five or more – it is also an amazing flower in vases, containers, and borders. Perfect for planting in zones 2-10, it does well in most areas except with clay soil, and if you plant a lot of them together, you won’t have the need to use stakes on them

Lemon Drop

The Lemon Drop has stunning, lemon-yellow petals with apricot flushes near the heart, as well as pointed, sword-like leaves that complement the petals themselves. The petals are delicate and have slightly ruffled edges, and they bloom in mid- to late-Summer. Growing up to 5 feet in height, the Lemon Drop has strong stems that can withstand heavy rain, and they look spectacular when planted in large groups. You can start them indoors before the first frost or directly in the ground afterwards, and they look beautiful in containers and vases, not to mention regular garden beds and borders.

Little Darling

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This gladiola has pink-rose petals with lemon-yellow centers. With up to 16 buds per stem, the Little Darling has narrow leaves that are deep-green in color and grows up to 42 inches tall. Blooming early, the blossoms stick around for roughly two weeks, and if you plant them in full sun and in soil that is moist but well-drained, they can last even longer. Their colors make them a beautiful addition to containers and vases, and they are perfect as the centerpiece of your garden, regardless of its size.

Milka

This type of gladiola has gently crimped and ruffled petals that are lavender-blue in color and get up to 10 blooms on each stem. The leaves are narrow and deep-green in color, and they bloom in early-Summer. Growing up to 4 feet in height, the flower looks spectacular in vases or containers, and if you want to show off something amazing as the centerpiece of your garden, the Milka is the one to consider. The more of them you plant together, the less likely you will need to stake the flowers, and they always grow best in full sun and well-drained but moist soil.

Nymph

Another type of sword lily or gladiola, this flower blooms in early-Summer and grows up to 30 inches in height. The flowers are stunning, with creamy-white petals and pink, teardrop-shaped markings and up to 6 buds per stem. Their upright stems are sturdy and long-lasting, and they do best in full sun and moist soils. With the exception of clay soil, they grow just about anywhere, and they look amazing in vases and as the centerpiece of your garden.

Princess Margaret Rose

With its glowing, fiery-hot colors that include red, orange, and yellow, this type of gladiola has blossoms that have ruffled edges that are arranged both symmetrically and closely for a truly stunning look. Their pointed leaves perfectly complement the beautiful petals, and they bloom in mid- to late-Summer. They grow up to 4 feet tall and do best in full sun or partial shade. Because strong winds can damage them, it is best to plant the Princess Margaret Rose in areas that are shaded and well-protected. Other than that, you can count on them to brighten up your garden regardless of what it looks like now.

Priscilla

The Priscilla has beautiful tricolor flowers that automatically catch people’s attention. They have a white background with a beautiful raspberry-pink trim and a soft-yellow throat, along with stems that are sturdy and get up to 5 feet high. With over a dozen buds per stem, this flower is truly stunning, and when blooming in mid- to late-Summer, it looks amazing in containers, vases, and as a border for your garden. If you plant them close together you likely will have no need to stake them, and the flowers do best if you never let the soil dry out completely.

Robinetta

This type of gladiola has fiery-red petals with small white markings, along with narrow, deep-green leaves that can grow up to 2 feet in height. The winner of several international flower awards, the Robinetta grows up to 7 flowers per stem and looks great in containers or vases. They bloom in early-Summer for up to 4 weeks, and they should always be planted in spaces that protect them from strong winds. They also look best if you plant them in large groups with other gladiolas.

Rose Supreme

These flowers are warm-salmon in color and have creamy-colored hearts near the center. They grow best in full sun and in soil that is well-drained but moist, and they can grow up to 4 feet high. Perfect as the centerpiece of your garden, they also look great in borders and vases, and they can be started indoors if the first frost hasn’t occurred yet. You can extend their life by planting them every few weeks or so, and they do well in almost all types of soil.

Violetta

Like its name implies, the Violetta has bright dark-purple petals and a delicate silver-white lining on the inside of each petal. They are eye-catching and truly stunning, which makes them perfect if you’re looking for something to use as the centerpiece of your garden. They look great in vases and containers, and it is always best not to let the soil get too dry. They have strong, showy leaves that perfectly complement the petals, and they can grow up to 5 feet in height.

White Prosperity

A beautiful creamy-white flower, the petals are quite large and have slightly ruffled edges. They can grow up to 4 inches in diameter, and they sit atop strong and attractive sword-like leaves. You can reduce your watering after they have bloomed, and they grow best in full sun and partial shade. Keeping them away from spaces that expose them to hard winds is also important, as is making sure the soil never gets too dry.

Windsong

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This gladiola has bright-pink petals and cheery yellow hearts, as well as beautiful stems that get as high as 4 feet. They bloom in mid-Summer to the first frost, and they are easy to grow, especially if you plant them in the full sun. The Windsong is a stunning flower that looks great in containers and vases, but you can put them in any arrangement that looks thin or sporadic to make it look a lot fuller.

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HOW TO GROW GLORIOUS GLADIOLUS
(QUEEN OF THE CUT FLOWER)
By: North American Gladiolus Council
INTRODUCTION
The North American Gladiolus Council appreciates you purchasing corms from a North American cataloger. We hope you enjoy the pleasure of growing glads and will pass a few onto family and friends. Our goal is to assist people in purchasing and growing glads. We support glad shows and societies across America.
BUYING CORMS
Most people start their adventure with glads purchased at a Garden Center. Since they are limited to shelf space they can carry only a few cultivars (varieties) or mixed bags. We are happy you have graduated to one of our many catalogers, where a world of thousands of cultivars are available. Upon receipt of your gladiolus order, if they are in paper bags, open each bag so they can air. Some catalogers may use mesh bags, which will naturally air. Place the open bag in the coolest, non-freezing location available, until you are ready to plant. Your corms (bulbs) are coming out of controlled storage (humidity and temperature) and will try to grow before planting if left packed in their shipping box. Your corms are ready to break dormancy and sprouts on the the top or root nodes on the bottom my be appearing, or soon will. If you also have decided to purchase corms from a Garden Center, purchase them early, when they first appear on the shelf. Store conditions are too warm and too dry for keeping corms in excellent condition. We discourage buying store corms when they go on sale later in the season, as the corms will deteriorate and we are afraid you will be disappointed in their performance. It is expensive and near impossible for catalogers to picture all the thousands of glads available. Most glads are sold by description and classification number. This is explained later in the booklet, under “Gladiolus Classification.”
SOIL PREPARATION
We find that applying approximately one pound of 8-16-16 fertilizer per one hundred square feet will get your glads off to a good start. The rest can be applied to your vegetables or other flowers. Do not over fertilize glads. If you apply fertilizer with a heavy hand, it would be best to apply it in the Fall. Glads appreciate humus rich soil. Compost or peat moss can be worked into the soil in the Spring before corms are sown, if so desired. It is not recommended to compost glad tops because disease can be carried back into the soil with the composted material. Uncomposted animal manures or leaves should only be worked into the soil in the Fall. Plow, rototiller or spade your soil as you would for any other garden seed or plants. It is always best to move your glad planting from one side of the garden to the other each year, in case of disease carry over in the soil, especially if you don’t remove old plants. Even poorer soil can grow good glads, with a little soil preparation.
PLANTING
Start planting when you would normally plant your sweet corn, after the danger of a freeze. If you are in a location where it does not freeze and the summers are hot, plant the corms early so they bloom before intense heat. Plant a few corms every ten days. Planting in this fashion allows for blooms all season long. You cannot permit the corms to freeze, but a little frost will not kill the underground corms or glad shoots. Plant corms 3 to 5 inches deep and 4 to 12 inches apart. A little soil insecticide spread in the trench before covering, will discourage underground insects. Covering the corms with 2 inches of soil at planting time and later hilling in needed soil when glads are several inches above ground, permits glads to get a quicker start, especially in heavier soils. You can fill in the trench to the full depth at planting time, if you wish. Before glads bloom, hilling soil six inches up around the stalk helps prevent the glads from tipping over during storms. Glads love full sun, but will do reasonably well if the shade is early morning or late afternoon. Gladiolus should be planted away from bushes, buildings, or other obstructions that impede air flow and provide competition for their growth. Water drainage is even more important. While gladiolus like plenty of water, they will not tolerate wet feet. Glads may be planted in rock gardens if watered and fed, and surrounding plants do not compete for sunlight.
GROWING CARE
Shallow cultivation or a light layer of organic mulch, such as peat moss or straw between the rows, discourage weeds. Preen, sold at most Garden Centers, can be used on glads to help prevent weeds, without any ill effect to the glads. If you prefer, shallow cultivation throughout the season will control your weeds. This will also allow the soil to air, especially if you are in wetter locations. Although some gardeners do not spray their glad patch, we find that spraying with Malathion, Sevin or Orthene every ten days to three weeks as needed, will keep the bugs away that spread disease.
Organic gardeners can use sticky traps and general organic methods that control insects on their other plants. (CAUTION-follow all chemical label directions.) Glads may be staked if in windy locations. Miniatures are a good buy for limited space gardens and are shorter, making them easier to care for and less apt to tip over.
FALL CORM CARE
Although many people do not dig their glads and just buy new stock each year, we find removing the old plants from the garden stops carryover of disease. Dig your gladiolus in September or early October, or around six weeks after your glads have bloomed. In warm locations, where the ground does not freeze, they may be left to bloom a second year, but we find digging them and replanting keeps them healthier and reduces crowding.
Loosen the soil with a spade or digging fork and pull the plants by hand. Separate the plant from the corm as close to the corm as possible, either by hand or with pruning shears. Corms should be brought from the garden, rinsed off with running water and allowed to dry. Cure the corms in shallow layers or trays, in an airy spot, protected from direct (scorching) sun, where temperatures stay above freezing. At this time a corky layer will form between the new corm and the old mother corm and roots. It usually takes 10 to 14 days to separate easily. Break off and discard this old corm and roots, as soon as possible. It will be difficult to remove later. The tiny round cormels around the base of the large corm, can be saved and planted to increase your stock. They are identical clones of the mother corm. If planted early in the Spring, many of these cormels will produce larger corms and some will bloom in September. Store the corms with the husks intact (do not peel.) After cleaning, sprinkle the corms with a combination fungicide-insecticide corm dust, which can be purchased at your local Garden Center. Storing them in shallow trays or mesh bags in a room with good air circulation and temperatures between 38 and 48 degrees, is optimum. Usually this is the coldest, non-freezing section of your basement. Glads will tolerate up to 60 degree storage temperature, but lower is better.
ENJOY GLAD SHOWS
If you would like to personally view some beautiful and unusual cultivars, attend a gladiolus show. All the shows are listed in the Spring issue of the North American Gladiolus Council Bulletin. There usually is no charge to show glads and prize money to win. Anyone can enter gladiolus shows. A novice class is usually provided for the first timers, and possibly even a youth class for the children. At the shows, there is always someone available to assist those entering for the first time. If you see a gladiolus you especially like at a show, write down the name and number listed on the entry tag, so you may purchase that corm in the future. Glads shown under a number only are seedlings that have not been introduced, and usually cannot be purchased yet.
​GLADIOLUS SOCIETIES
If you would like to meet people who enjoy growing glads, join a local society. Societies are listed on our website at www.gladworld.org. You may wish to join our national organization, the North American Gladiolus Council, where you can attend conventions and learn more about growing gladiolus. The Glad World, quarterly publication includes upcoming shows and societies. An application form is located on the back page.
Any classification number ending in an odd digit (1,3,5,7,9) indicates “with conspicuous markings.” For example, while 66 means plain dark rose, 67 means a dark rose with markings.
The first number (1 thru 5) indicates the size of the floret, with 1 being under 2-1/2 inches across, 2 being 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches, 3 being 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 inches, 4 being 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 inches and 5 being over 5-1/2 inches across. For example, the gladiolus name Gold Struck is classified as 416. It has a floret size of between 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 inches and is a dark yellow.
Glad classifications starting with 1 and 2 are considered miniatures. For instance, the glad “Black Lash” is classified as a 268. It has a floret size of between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches and is a black/rose. 3, 4 and 5’s are considered large flowered glads.
GLADIOLUS PUBLICATIONS
The following publications are available from Bud Bullard, NAGC Publication Director, 6595 Hitchingham Rd., Ypsilanti, MI 48197.
“HOW TO GROW GLORIOUS GLADIOLUS” – A 160 page book; Back issues of “Glad World”, Classification Lists and the Buyers Guide.
JOIN NORTH AMERICAN GLADIOLUS COUNCIL
Receive four “Glad World” publications yearly. Dues are $20.00 annually.
Publication includes listing of shows, winning cultivars reports, chemical and cultural updates, and Talk Radio, where you can ask any questions about glads, and much more.

Fun Facts:

  • Gladiolus is among the top 10 bestselling florist flowers worldwide.

  • Birth month flower for August (SAF)

  • 40th-wedding-anniversary flower.

  • European botanists first brought gladioli back home from southern Africa in the 17th century. A hundred years later they were being exported in huge quantity to Europe, especially Belgium. Interest in growing and hybridizing them took on a fever pitch around 1840, and continues to this day.

  • The gladiolus family currently includes 260 – 300 species and more than 30,000 cultivars. Not bad for a genus that started with just eight species!

  • The name gladiolus springs from the same Latin word as “gladiator:” gladi, or “sword.” Add –ator and you have gladiator, “swordsman,” and add the French diminutive –ole and you have gladiole, “little sword,” which became the English “gladiolus.”

  • Some gladiolus cultivars evolved in the Mediterranean, and the ancient Romans prized them. Gladiolus spikes symbolized courage, and were tossed jubilantly to victorious gladiators.

  • The ancient Greeks loved gladioli too, and called them xiphium. Interestingly, the root word xiphos also means “sword.”

  • The gladiolus made its way through Europe as the Romans expanded their empire, and was grown in English gardens for medicine as well as beauty. The corms used as a poultice for extracting splinters and thorns, or powdered and added to goat’s milk to ease colic.

  • African natives shared the delicacy of roasted gladiolus corms with European explorers, who noted that they tasted like chestnuts (which taste similar to yams). Modern experts advise that garden-grown gladiolus petals are edible (though blander than lettuce), but that the rest of the plant can be toxic, especially to pets. So in the kitchen, gladioli are best put on the table, not in the pan.

  • Handling some species may irritate skin.

  • If you get tongue-tied when trying to navigate this flower’s singular and plural names, you’re not alone! Even though it has an “s” on the end, a single stem is a gladiolus. Multiple stems are gladioli. The sound-alike words “gladiola” and “gladiolas” are often used, but they ain’t correct.

  • In the Victorian “Language of Flowers,” gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, and “piercing” a lover’s heart.

  • A member of the Iridaceae (iris) family, related to the freesia, iris and crocus.

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