Friday, December 9, 2016

Impostor Bulbs?!

This morning, I planted the last of my bulb order.  Now we wait for spring to see what happens...

One of the first sets of bulbs I planted has interested me for a while, as I've read about them in a number of books.  The Byzantine gladiolus (Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus) is an old-fashioned "Southern heirloom".  It's not native to the U.S., but has been grown here and passed along from gardener to gardener for generations.  Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who has this particular heirloom plant, so I can't beg a "start".

After placing my bulb order (months and months ago), I read that many of the bulbs/corms sold (cheaply) as Byzantine gladiolus are actually not the same plant, but another type of gladiolus-- Gladiolus italicus.  Based on the price I paid, I assumed that my "Byzantine glads" would turn out to be this so-called "impostor".

When the corms arrived, I looked again at this very useful comparison of the various similar gladioli, and I'm convinced that mine are Gladiolus italicus.  (They have the "reticulated veins" you'll see pictured at the previous link.  I should've photographed them before planting, but I didn't take the time.  Apparently, another "tell" is that G. italicus is the only species that doesn't have winged seeds.  Instead, its seeds are shaped more like small peppercorns.)

...So based on this experience, I can report that at least as of this year, if you order Byzantine glads from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, you're probably not getting exactly what you expect.  (But there may be a silver lining!  Keep reading...)

While sellers of the One True Byzantine Gladiolus suggest that the impostors are inferior in every way, information on the Pacific Bulb Society's website offers some solace for those of us who've bought the bargain basement version.  ;o)  Angelo Porcelli writes that G. italicus is a shorter plant (20-23" versus "up to 40 inches" for G. byzantinus), with smaller flowers.  However, he adds the following (encouragingly):  "Many claim that Gladiolus byzantinus is a rich dark purple while Gladiolus italicus is a pale, dull copy, but actually that isn't so. I have seen some photos of Gladiolus italicus that show really ugly forms, pale and small, almost deformed, and I wonder who introduced them into cultivation, seeing that in nature there are many nice, strong, colorful plants."  I guess we can only hope that we get some of the good ones!  At least there's a chance...

The reason G. italicus is so much cheaper and more widely available is that it increases very quickly: "This species is highly bulbilliferous, it increases by cormlets at an alarming rate and a single corm will turn in a clump in a few years."

If these turn out to be total duds, I suppose there's always the option of trying again from one of the other sources.  The price is said to be a good indicator of whether or not you'll be getting the real thing.  If they're cheap, they're most likely going to be G. italicus.  If, on the other hand, the price makes you step back with in-drawn breath and a sharp pain from the region of the pocketbook, you can be more optimistic that you'll receive the genuine article.

Joking aside, the seller making the biggest online fuss about the fact that they have the "true" Byzantine gladiolus charges $12.50 for a single corm/bulb ($34 for 3, and so on, up to $225 for 25).  That's an awful lot for such a tiny corm, unless it multiplies like the dickens!  (And evidently it doesn't, or else surely it wouldn't be so expensive!)  I guess I'll just hope that my almost-Byzantine glads look okay, because I don't think I can justify that kind of money for such a small start of a plant...

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Anyway, I planted most of these gladiolus corms in the new flowerbed-- the one on the septic pad-- the one that needs a nicer name...  But it doesn't really have a "theme", so an easy name doesn't pop into my head.  The Oval Bed?  (How creative!)  Nope, no good ideas.

I think the new bed will be a good location.  Well-drained soil, plenty of sun... And it's where we'll see the flowers every day, from windows along the back of the house.  A few spare corms found a home in one of the beds on the western side of the house.

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I apologize for the lack of photos, today.  There's more to write about the other bulbs I've planted, and though I didn't take photos of any of the bulbs before planting them, maybe I can find a few photos of other garden-y things to add a little color to the next post.