On your birthday it’s not uncommon to receive a present featuring your birthstone or zodiac symbol. However, few people know about their birth flower. In this series, we’ll be looking at the birth flower of each month, according to Joseph Hammer-Pugstall’s The Language of Flowers.
Summer for many conjures images of tropical seas, parties with friends and clashing, brightly coloured prints. It seems fitting then that the birth flower for August is the majestic, multi-coloured Gladiolus. Gladioli belong to the Iris family, and with the name “Iris” coming from the Greek for “rainbow” you can see why.
Cultivation of Gladioli has lead to a myriad of different shapes, colours and sizes, but the natural species are still beautiful. Below is an image of the bright pink Gladiolus illyric. South African species are pollinated by digger bees (anthophorini) which have long-tongues. As Gladioli have travelled across the world, the job of pollination has been handed over to sunbirds, hawk-moths and owlet-moths.
I’ve previously discussed the co-evolutions between pollinators and flowers to ensure only species that will pollinate a flower will be rewarded with pollen in my Common Columbine post. Gladiolus is another flower that has evolved to ensure its pollination through these clever reward system.
Gladioli are perennial plants that grow from corms; underground, swollen plant stems that act as over-winter storage. Corms are an example of a geophyte, along with bulbs, tuber and rhizomes. The differentiation between each deserves a blog post of its own.
There are 300 species of Gladiolus, according to the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, and many of them are endemic to southern Africa, meaning that is their one native region. But this successful genus has found worldwide fame and features heavily in art, folklore and popular culture.
As well as being the birth flower of August, the Gladiolus is also associated with 40th wedding anniversaries. It’s no wonder then that Gladiolus is the symbol of courage and heroism in many cultures from South Africa to China. It also has the common name of Sword Lily, because of its lily-like flowers and lance-like leaves.
Gladioli have also featured heavily in art, for their energetic colour and form. Later in his career, Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh began painting more still-life. One such example of this is ‘Vase with Red Gladioli’ (1886), seen below. It is said that this piece brought a lot of peace to the painter, and although it is more subdued for his style, his signature brush strokes are still very much visible.
With this August being the hottest the UK has seen for the last 17 years, it seems fitting that this fiery, energetic flower is its symbol. And while we sit tight during this pandemic, I think we could all use a little more Gladiolus to bring us courage. To ensure you don’t miss September’s birth flower, be sure to follow Fronds with Benefits here, on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.