Suicide Lily

Credit: Daniel Mosquin

The common name for Gladiolus flanaganii – suicide lily – tells all we need to know about how difficult it is to find this plant in the wild. Death-defying photographers and collectors have to scale cliff faces in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa to reach their goal. Fortunately, this treasure is becoming easier to find in cultivation.

South Africa is the centre of diversity for the genus Gladiolus; over half of the 260 known species are found only in that country. Astoundingly, the over 30,000 traditional cultivars of gladiolus selected to date have been produced from the interbreeding of eight species (Gladiolus flanaganii is not one of them).

The flowers of the suicide lily last little more than a day, then quickly decay. As can be seen from the photograph, the progression from unfurling to senescence occurs first in the bottom-most flowers.