What Is The History Of Fragrant Gladiolus

For many years, fragrance in garden gladiolus eluded hybridizers. After various growers had spent 125 years obtaining fragrant garden gladiolus. 

Dean William Ilerbert of England produced his hybrid, GLADIOLUS FRAGRANS—a cross between strongly night-scented GLADIOLUS TRISTIS and violet-sweet GLADIOLUS RECURVUS—just about that long ago.

Fragrant GladsPin

It was a truly fragrant miniature gladiolus with all of the dainty grace of its species’ parents.  

All of their faults—difficult to grow outside a cool greenhouse or in winter-growing climates such as California has—so it disappeared from garden culture nearly a century ago.

Colville’s Red Baby Gladiolus Hybrid

Next came Colville’s red baby gladiolus hybrid, COLVILLE, another progeny of Gladiolus Tristis, this time crossed with Gladiolus Cardinal’s. COLVILLE’ is still growing occasionally in Europe. 

In cool greenhouses and in well-protected cold frames, for early spring bloom. It has been reputed by some to be slightly fragrant, but neither it nor any of its progeny has really proven so.

Attempt For Fragrant Gladiolus Garden

After the large-flowered garden gladiolus gained deserved popularity, several industrious plant breeders, including Van Fleet and Richard Diener, attempted without much success to produce fragrant garden gladiolus by direct crosses of the strongly night-scented Gladiolus Mists with garden gladiolus varieties.

That was when I took a hand in this apparently fruitless venture during a brief visit to the native home of the wild gladiolus in South Africa in 1920. 

Fragrant Wild Gladiolus Species

I learned about the fragrant wild gladiolus species of the Cape of Good Hope which numbered about a dozen and differed among themselves in color, stature, and flower fragrance. 

Despite the finicky growth habits of all of these (the growing season in the Cape region is in the cool, moist winter), I decided then and there to do something about it. 

During the next 10 years, I assembled information on the subject and also a collection of garden gladiolus varieties and gladiolus species with sweet-scented flowers.

One of the first surprises was that the sonic of the garden gladiolus varieties have distinct traces of odor in the flowers, sometimes good and sometimes ill.

Scarlet Pythia

Some ruffled kinds had a distinctly bad smell in the opening buds! This was first noted with a vase of scarlet PYTHIA, given to a friend after a visit to Donald Briggs’ and the gardens of W. E. Kirchoff, Sr. at Monterey, California. 

Kept in a tightly closed room during a warm afternoon (after the custom in California during hot weather to keep out the heat ), these rather offensively scented the room.

Kirchoff’s Violet

Kirchoff’s VIOLET had a faintly pleasant odor. This was transmitted to most of its progeny. 

Primulinus Hybrid

Primulinus hybrid, ARISTOCRAT, had a mild aromatic smell derived from the ill scent of the ruffled varieties.

This was renamed SWEET ‘N LOVELY. Unfortunately, these faint traces of scent in the garden varieties did not increase throughout 3 or 4 generations of breeding. 

Breeding Of Strongly Fragrant Gladiolus Species

Furthermore, having the strongly fragrant gladiolus species available for breeding, I soon abandoned work with the faint scents of the garden glads. 

Others have persisted in their work with these. As a result, we now have Mrs. Miller’s INCENSE, Winston Roberts’ newly introduced seedling of it, and his DIADEM, ODORA, Brauer’s PERFUME. 

All of these are more or less fragrant, none very strong to my nose, and- other people differ in their estimates of their fragrance. 

As I learned in my work with the species, this is scarcely surprising that the human nose is far from being a sure detector of fragrance in flowers. 

Types Of Flower Fragrance Smelled By Different People

About three-quarters of the people could enjoy any pure type of flower fragrance; one-quarter of the people usually did not smell that particular odor at all, although fully appreciative of other perfumes. 

Many times careful workers have had their fragrant gladiolus seedlings on the show bench, only to find that many of their friends could not smell their flowers at all!

So, in my efforts to transfer the fragrance of the gladiolus species to suitable garden varieties during the past quarter century, I also had to consider the frailties of the average human sense of smell. 

Sweetness Of Gladiolus Recurviis

Hybrids with only violet-like (lonone) sweetness of GLADIOLUS RECURVIIS were only fragrant to 75 people out of 100. 

Night Fragrance Of Gladiolus Tristis

The same was true of the night fragrance of GLADIOLUS TRISTIS. 

Fortunately, I ultimately had several distinct types of fragrance to use in my breeding work, notably an orange-blossom fragrance and a pungent carnation odor. 

By combining three of these distinct scents into a single fragrant flower, I then found I had a fragrance that everybody could enjoy, even though different people could find different sweetnesses in it! 

Smoky Old Rose Araby

Smoky old rose ARABY recently registered with the American Gladiolus Registry, has all of these. 

Most people credit this flower with a rose fragrance, which will do very well for it. Our garden roses have a combination of several odors in them, too.

Fragrant Seedlings

Of course, during the last quarter-century, several other fragrant seedlings, in various colors and forms, have appeared in my garden, some of them in yellow, white, pink, and violet, with fragrances as varied as their colors, show real promise. 

But Arum, having proven its adaptability to Long Island. Southern Florida, humid North Carolina, and here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia will serve as an introductory, even though the blossom size will not excite envy among the showmen.

Fortunately, the vagrant scents among the garden gladiolus varieties are almost as varied as the fragrances of their strongly sweet, wild South African Afrikander relatives. 

These, combined with the sweetness of the wild species or with each other, give promise of a more dependable fragrance than the first pioneer sweet-scented glads introduced. 

Of course, beginning with the delicate little wild gladiolus species, as I did, it takes years of painstaking work to develop hybrids acceptable to gardeners accustomed to the giant size of PICARDY. 

Meanwhile, the little sweet-scented pioneers of a new race of glads will appeal to those who put dainty grace ahead of mere size.

44659 by Forman T. Mclean