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Call It What You Will, It's One Amazing Flower!

by Sally Ferguson


Acidanthera is a summer flower so fragrant, exotic-looking and lovely that it defies logic. No rare pearl of great price, this summer bloomer is affordable, readily available and practically idiot-proof to grow.

One thing that’s not so simple is what to call it. Officially, the flower is now called Gladiolus callianthus or Gladiolus callianthus murielae. But you will still often find it for sale as Acidanthera (or maybe Acidanthera bicolor or Acidanthera murielae). It’s also sometimes called Abyssinian gladiolus, even Peacock Orchid! Most often it is simply acidanthera.

It’s odd, actually, that acidanthera should land a home in the gladiolus family for it bears so little resemblance to this more famous flower relation. Where the glad is somewhat stiff and upright, acidanthera is loose and bobbing. You might think of acidanthera as the glad family’s renegade cousin. This summer bloomer is not stately, it’s graceful and sexy!

But, whatever you call them, it was clearly more difficult to name these beauties than it is to grow them! The best news is that now is the time to look for these summer charmers at home centers, garden centers, and from mail-order garden firms.

A Bulb with Beautiful Intentions

Acidanthera is a bulb. Not a hardy bulb like a spring-blooming tulip or daffodil, but a tender summer bulb – the kind you plant in spring to bloom in summer. They’re also antique, having first been introduced to ecstatic gardeners in 1896! Acidanthera is heavenly in the garden or as a large container plant. It boasts broad star-shaped flowers with glistening white petals surrounding a mysterious dark purple-burgundy throat. Each fragrant flower bobs atop a slim two-foot tall stem flanked by a flurry of supple sword-shaped leaves. The flowers nod on arching stems, scenting soft breezes in mid-to late summer with a primrose-like fragrance so lovely it stops conversations.

Just 10 little bulbs will fill out a 12-inch pot nicely. For an 18-inch pot, plant 25 bulbs. They are also excellent planted in clusters in a mixed garden border, and are shown to best advantage positioned near a house, deck or balcony, anywhere their wonderful fragrance can be enjoyed on a warm summer evening.

As a tender summer bulb, acidanthera is frost-sensitive. Plant outdoors after the threat of frost is past. They do well in direct sun, but need a fairly sheltered location away from the wind. Plant the bulbs five inches deep, adding more every two weeks or so to extend their bloom season. Keep soil moist, but do not over-water.


Acidanthera is hardy in USDA zones 7 – 10. In colder areas, the bulbs (technically, these are corms) can be lifted and stored in a protected area at a cool room temperature (60°F to 68°F). Or you can just toss them out and plant anew next year. If you’ve grown them in pots, at summer’s end, stop watering, bring the pots indoors for the winter, and put them out again next spring after danger of night frosts has passed.

No matter what you call them, on a balmy August evening as you sit in the garden enjoying the remains of the day, you won’t be sorry to have planted a few dozen of these delightfully fragrant flowers.


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