Dragon’s-Head Lily

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday, the subject is a naturalized exotic plant that is, nonetheless, a staple of old Edistonian gardens and the shoulders of Highway 174. This week we’re sneaking a peek at the Dragon’s-Head Lily (Gladiolus dalenii).

Like other members of the Iris family, Gladiolus dalenii loves wet soils. On Edisto it thrives in the shady, disturbed, sandy, and wet soils of the ditches along Hwy-174 and it’s many branches. The species is perennial and spreads clonally through its roots. The large, flat, erect leaf blades give the genus their common name of “Sword Lilies”. The Dragon’s-Head Lily produces a single flower stalk per leaf clump that can reach over 5 feet in height. Each stalk bears about a dozen large flowers along one side. The flowers are a fiery blend of yellow and red-orange. Although the species is exotic, it’s quite innocuous to the native plant communities.

The Dragon’s-Head Lily is a native throughout tropical and eastern Africa with quite an expansion range on the continent. Its history and range in the United States is poorly understood, with only a few isolated reports of it in LA, MS, and AL. However, I can tell you for certain that it’s made quite the home for itself on Edisto Island. Decades in the past it was a popular ornamental planting in both Edisto and Beaufort. Part of a horticultural trend that has long since been forgotten. However, although the history of its planting, origins of the horticultural stock, and even its botanical name was forgotten by the descendants of its propagators, those same plants and the beauty of their flowers still remain. A torch that burns each spring though we know not why it was lit.

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