Family Iridaceae > Subfamily Crocoideae > Tribe Ixeae (Gladioleae).
The Sword lily genus has about 260 species (200 – 300) and thousands of hybrids.

Perennial plants growing from corms (enlarged part of an underground stem).
The green or blue-green leaves are mostly sword-shaped but can be linear.
The up to 9 flat leaves have sheathing bases.
There are a number of prominent ridges especially the midvein.

Inflorescence stems, up to 2 m or more, are almost always unbranched.
Each stem has 1 to about 24 flowers each with 2 usually green bracts.
The alternating flowers are usually all on one side of the stem.
The size of the trumpet or funnel-shaped flowers varies greatly.
Some wild species have tiny flowers and some hybrids are up to 15 cm across.

There are 6 tepals in 2 whorls with the bases fused into a curved perianth tube.
The unequal flaring lobes can be straight, curled back or ruffled.
The dorsal tepal is the largest and sometimes forms a hood over the stamens.
The outer three tepals are narrower.

The 3 stamens, attached to the top of the tube, are unilteral (close and off centre).
They are basifixed, straight or curved and open via longitudinal slits.
The ovary, with 3 locules, is inferior.
The style divides into 3 branches with flattened ends having filiform edges.
The globular or oblong fruit capsules hold many, usually winged, seeds.

Original colours included white, red or pink but cultivars expand the range.
Flowers are now seen in any colour except blue.
There may be markings in a second or third colour.

The hybrids are variously divided into groups such as:

  • Primulinus plants are under 60 cm high with narrow leaves and small, hooded flowers.
  • Nanus plants are miniatures 60 to 90 cm high and flowers to 5 cm wide.
  • Grandiflorus, common plants with small, medium or large flowers some 10 cm across.

The large range of cut flowers are collectively known as Gladiolus x hortulanus.