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Hunting gladiolus in the former Gladiolus Capital of the World

February 8, 2013
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Well, Jean and I have been busy forming our designs for Bell Towers' Strolling Flower Show held this last Thursday and Friday. I spent last week-end searching for bright orange yellow gladiolus. All I could find were pink or white ones.

At the local Farmer's Market, I was told only the white and pink were available because the other colors froze. I called Zipperers, one of the biggest dealers around, people I knew, that had huge acres of gladiolus and I had bought their glads many years ago when I ran a floral shop. They were very well known for their beautiful flowers.

I called, and was informed; "They are no longer in the gladiolus business. Government regulations had put them out of business."

This is a "once upon a time" story; Lee County was once the Gladiolus Capital of the World. Glads were in the official seal. Originally, Southwest Florida was best known as an agriculture region with cattle and gladiolus fields. In the decade between 1997 and 2007, the county went from having 50,833 agriculture acres to 32,175 according to the 2002 Census of Agriculture.

As land, homes and condos became more profitable than flowers, we began to lose our glads. Gladiolus Drive in south Lee County, off of McGregor Boulevard, was so named for all the fields of gladiolus produced on the lands it bordered. Going north off of Gladiolus to McGregor Boulevard is A&W Bulb Road , so named for the A&W Bulb Company, one of the major glad bulb growers in South Fort Myers in the mid 20th century.

During this time, Fort Myers was known as the gladiolus farm capital of the world. Early settlers who had come from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg brought the gladiolus here. Our rich soil and climate proved very favorable and beneficial to growing glads.

These farms prospered until developers wanted the land. As the land around here was sold off to builders for development, land became more valuable than the flowers. The gladiolus capital was no more. So it stands as a testament that, glads will grow here successfully.

In my first years here, I worked in a nursery with a gal who lived off of Pine Island on Bridlewood Court. She tended a lovely garden of gladiolus that she had retrieved from the large fields on the way into her home. There had been gladiolus fields growing up there, so she saved the ones that would pop up here and there.

Stephen Brown, extension director and horticulture program leader agent, has an interesting video on You Tube about the glads being raised at Lakes Park by master gardeners in 2010. Since you can plant the bulbs anytime of the year here, these were planted in March 2010 and by May there were rows of color. His summary was-gladiolus production was once a viable commercial industry in Lee County ... gladiolus can be planted anytime of the year ... flowers are expected to last 60 to 90 days after planting from corms ... disease problems may occur in wet weather.

The needs for glad growing are, as much sun as possible in 8 to 11 Zones, planted a foot apart. They can tolerate most soils, but do best in a well drained 6.5 and 6.8 ph soil. Plant the bulbs 6 inches deep, about 2 to 7 inches apart. Include sand in the soil mix , which is about what we already have, and give them space to grow.

Don't let them compete with tree or shrub roots, or walls. Put down fertilizer in planting area, 10-10-10, with a minimum of 1 inch of water a week and a water-based fertilizer must be watered into the soil. Keep them out of strong winds. The can be staked when 8 inches tall.

The gardeners in zones 6 and colder need to dig up the bulbs (called corms by knowledgeable people) in the fall; zones 7 and 8, apply a thick layer of mulch to protect the bulbs from light freezes. After blooming, don't cut green foliage until leaves turn yellow/brown, then, cut them to the ground. Green stalks produce food for next year, this boosts bulb growth. You can leave the bulbs in the ground.

Gladiolus is commonly referred to by its Genus name - Gladiolus. Because of its sword-like leaves, it is called the Sword Lily or Corn Lily. Gladiolus means, "little sword." Ancient Romans called their swords gladius. It is a member of the iris family.

Grown from bulb-like forms called corms, they are not true bulbs. There are 260 species: 10 native to Eurasia and 250 native to South Africa, with more than 10,000 cultivars.

Glads were first brought to Europe in the late 17th century, then, flooded Europe in the 18th century. Glad cultivars were most likely crossbred from 7 species native to South Africa. True blue is the only color not available.

Parts of the glad are poisonous, and allergic reactions can come from handling. In many parts of the world, glads are thought of as funeral flowers. It is the birth flower for August and for 40th anniversaries.


The Coccoloba Chapter of Florida Native Plant Society will be having a Native Plant Sale today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Riverside Park, 27300 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs. Free one gallon Florida slash pine with orders over $10.

Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council member, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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