Thursday, October 27, 2011

Peacock Flower - Lovely By Any Name

Call it Peacock Flower, Abyssinian Gladiolus, Fragrant Gladiolus, Sword Lily, Acidanthera bicolor, Acidanthera murielae or Gladiolus callianthus. Why it's called Peacock Flower is easy to guess, as is the appellation, "fragrant." "Abyssinian" because it is considered to be native to Ethiopia (some say to Madagascar). It's called Sword Lily because the leaves are sword-like, long and tapering to a point. The name Gladiolus means "little sword." It's called bicolor because the flower is either red, pink or purple on white. Callianthus means "beautiful flower." It was given the name murielae in honor of Muriel Wilson, daughter of famous plantsman and explorer Ernest H. "Chinese" Wilson (1876-1930). Acidanthera refers to the sharp anthers in the center of the flower. Whether one prefers the name Gladiolus or Acidanthera depends on whether one views it as a species of Gladiolus or a genus of its own.

By any name, it is a lovely flower that is easy to grow. It possesses a distinctive tropical elegance. Peacock Flower looks like other gladioli in most respects. The plant grows to 3 feet tall. Long flower spikes produce butterfly-like blossoms along the length. The height, bold foliage and showy flowers add interest to bulb gardens and perennial borders.

Peacock Flower is hardy from USDA climate zones 7 through 11. Blooms, suitable for cutting and flower arrangements, may appear from mid-summer to fall.

Choose a site in full sun with average, consistently moist but well-drained garden soil. Preferred pH may range from 6.1 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

Cultivate the soil to a depth of twelve inches and amend it according to soil test recommendations. Remove weeds and debris during cultivation. It is usually a good idea to incorporate superphosphate into the soil before planting at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row. If superphosphate is not available, an application of 5-10-5 fertilizer at the same rate is recommended. Plant Peacock Flowers four to six inches deep and six inches apart in spring when the weather and soil has warmed. Do not allow synthetic fertilizer to contact the corms. Cover with soil and water well. An application of mulch can suppress weeds and help to retain moisture. All gladioli benefit from generous feeding. A second application of 5-10-5 fertilizer may be applied as a side dressing at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row when the emerging bloom spike can be felt at the base of the foliage. Again, the fertilizer should not come into contact with the plants. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Too much fertilization can encourage bulb diseases.

When cutting for flower arrangements, choose stems with no more than three flowers in bloom. For best results, cut the stems in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Leave a few leaves on each plant so the corms will remain strong. Most growers allow four leaves to remain on the corm. Use a sharp knife or clippers making a clean cut. Plunge the lower ends of the stems immediately in a bucket of cool water.

Peacock Flowers are not hardy in colder climates than USDA zone 7. The corms can be dug in fall and saved for planting the next spring. For more information about that, read my article, FAQ: When should I cut my gladioli? .

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1 comment:

Jean Campbell said...

I call it Acidanthera because I like the way the name trips off the tongue.