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Gladiolus dalenii (Dragon's head lily, Parrot lily, Natal lily, Sword lily, African gladiolus)

[= Gladiolus dracocephalus, Gladiolus natalensis, Gladiolus psittacinus]

Papegaaigladiolus, Wildeswaardlelie [Afrikaans]; khahle-e-kholo [South Sotho]; sidvwana [Swazi]; isidwi esibomvu, uhlakhale, udwendweni [Zulu]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Asparagales > Family: Iridaceae > Genus: Gladiolus

Gladiolus dalenii Gladiolus dalenii

Gladiolus dalenii (orange form), eastern Free State, South Africa. [photo Colin Paterson-Jones ]

Gladiolus dalenii (yellow form), Vumba Rd., Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Gladiolus dalenii Gladiolus dalenii

Gladiolus dalenii (red form), Harare Rd. near Headlands, Zimbabwe. [photos Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Gladiolus dalenii Gladiolus dalenii

Gladiolus dalenii (yellow form) flowering along the rim of Victoria Falls, Zambia. [photo Helen Pickering , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Gladiolus dalenii flowering along the rim opposite the Victoria Falls over the Knife edge bridge, Zambia. [photo Helen Pickering , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Information mainly from Goldblatt and Manning (1998), unless otherwise indicated.


  • Tall plants, usually ranging from 0.7-1.5 m high but can reach 2 m!
  • Flowers are large, ranging from 60 to 100 mm long. The upper tepals are 35-50 mm long, far exceeding the recurved lower tepals.
  • The dorsal tepal is distinctive in being strongly hooded.
  • The perianth tube is 35-50 mm long.
  • Flowers can range from red to orange (often with yellow marks on the lower tepals), or from yellow to greenish (often with red or brown streaks on the upper tepals).

Distribution and habitat

The most widespread and common species of Gladiolus, occurring just about throughout the grasslands, savannas and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. Its distribution also entends to the highlands of southwestern Arabia (western Saudi Arabia and Yemen) and Madagascar. Within southern Africa, it occurs in Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Free State, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo. It is absent from the winter rainfall (Cape) regions and from the semi-arid and arid regions, including the karoo, Kalahari and Namib. Gladiolus dalenii is most common in fairly moist habitats, especially in hilly country and upland grasslands.

Life cycle

  • A geophyte, with large corms, usually measuring 20-30 mm in diameter.
  • Flowering times:
    • southern Africa: usually November to April although along the KwaZulu-Natal coast it also flowers in September and October;
    • tropical Africa: mid-November to May, sometimes as late as June;
    • western and central Africa: May to August;
    • Ethiopia: August and September; and
    • Eritrea and Arabian Peninsula: January to March.
  • Seeds measure 8-12 mm long by 5-9 mm wide, with well-developed wings (the seed body is only about 2 mm in diameter).

Ecological interactions



  • In southern Sotho medicine, Gladiolus dalenii is a common constituent in the lenaka (medicine horn) of  the South Sotho-speaking herbalists (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).
  • In southern Sotho medicine, a decoction of the corm is used for treating colds and dysentry. Alternatively, the smoke from the burning corm is inhaled to treat colds, and the powdered corm is taken for treating dysentry  (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).
  • In West Africa, preparations of Gladiolus dalenii are used for treating constipation and dysentry, and also evidently for treating snake bites.
  • Corms are used as food in the DRC, by first boiling them and then leaching them in water for a week.
  • Widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. In addition, it has played an important role in the development of Gladiolus hybrids, being one of the original species used in crosses to produce the large-flowered Gladiolus cultivars, which are today amongst the most important cut-flower crops.

Derivation of name

dalenii refers to Cornelius Dalen, a Dutch botanist who became director of the Rotterdam Botanic Garden. From stock obtained from KwaZulu-Natal, he distributed the species round Europe.



  • Goldblatt P. and Manning J. 1998. Gladiolus in Southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
  • Watt, J.M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Second Edition. E. & S. Livingstone Ltd., Edinburgh.

Text by Hamish Robertson

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