Acidanthera – Beauty of Abyssinia

If you want something different, a flower for cutting, graceful but not frail, try the acidanthera, from western Abyssinia. The flowers are like those of gladiolus flowers but much more dainty and orchid-like. When you see the flowers the thing that catches your attention most, in addition to their grace, is the blackish crimson centers of the otherwise pure white blooms. Next is the gentle, persuasive scent. The stem is wiry, 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 feet tall and bears five to eight buds which open in water just as well as on the plant.

From my own experience, I find the corms should be planted at the end of May or early June when the ground is warming up. The plants do best in full sunshine. Soaking the corms in warm water for 24 hours before planting is also helpful in getting away to a quick start, since acidanthera needs about four months to bloom outdoors. You can start them indoors in March like tuberous begonias. This will give blooms in early August.

blooming acidanthera

Planted outdoors in early June at Ogunquit, Maine, on an open southern slope, they flowered generously September 20 to 30. Corms taken from the same bag and given the same treatment but planted in a border which was partially shaded developed flower spikes which remained “stuck” in the leaves and never opened.

After the first frost the corms should be harvested with the stems intact, tied in a bundle and slipped into a paper bag which is hung from the ceiling of a warm cellar or room. The old stalks are removed in March. There are no diseases to combat, at least none have come to my notice which, in itself, is something worthwhile. The bulbs are very reasonably priced and with simple care one need never lose them. Not only will they live on for years but one may have increases galore to give away to friends and neighbors.

All this comes from the “scented gladiolus” received by James Kelway in England from a Captain Erskine who discovered the plants deep in the heart of Africa. When first exhibited in 1933 the acidanthera won the Award of Merit of the British Gladiolus Society and the same from the Royal Horticultural Society a few years later. Upon introduction it was named Gladiolus murieliae after the wife of its discoverer, but has since been reclassified to Acidanthera bicolor murieliae by the botanists.

by Hendrik Langeler

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