Acidanthera Plant Growing & Care Guide for Gardeners

In this Gardener's HQ guide, we'll explore cultivating Acidanthera plants in your garden, indoor spaces, and other settings.

Abyssinian Sword Lily: Cultivation & Garden Use

Common names for the Hardy half-hardy Acidanthera plant, which is usually grown from bulbs, include Abyssinian, Sword Lily, Abyssinian sword lily, Fragrant gladiolus, and Sword Lily.

NB the Acidanthera genus has recently been re-classified into the Gladiolus plant genus.

Abyssinian sword lily
Abyssinian Sword Lily photograph by Living in Monrovia.

Acidanthera typically flowers from late summer to autumn. Some common species and varieties include Acidanthera bicolor and Acidanthera murielea; it is also commonly refered to as Gladiolus callianthus.

Sword lily photo
G.A. Cooper @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Description of Acidanthera plants

Abyssinian sword lily is native to Africa.

Acidanthera carry sword shaped leaves with long pointed white flowers. These have a brown centre.

Acidanthera Plant Species Photographs and Plant Identification

Acidanthera bicolor - Abyssinian Sword Lily, Fragrant Gladiolus

Synonyms: Gladiolus callianthus, Gladiolus murielae, Gladiolus acidanthera

Acidanthera bicolor is a bulbous perennial. Abyssinian Sword Lily grows to about 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm) tall. Plants feature sword-like leaves, and carry bi-colored flowers; these are typically white and maroon.

Acidanthera bicolor
Acidanthera bicolor - (Gladiolus Callianthus) picture by audreyjm529

This plant enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. It is perfect for mixed borders, cutting gardens, or as a container plant.

Acidanthera murielae - Peacock Orchid

Acidanthera murielae syn. Gladiolus murielae syn. Gladiolus callianthus

Acidanthera murielae

Acidanthera murielae also known as Gladiolus callianthus 'Murielae', is a bulbous perennial. Fragrant Gladiolus can reache a height of 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm). It has sword-shaped leaves and fragrant, star-shaped white flowers.

Acidanthera murielae
Acidanthera murielae (Abyssinian Gladiolus / Fragrant Gladiolus), photograph by Leonora (Ellie) Enking; CC.

It prefers to grow in a location with full sun and good drainage. It makes an ideal plant for mixed borders, cutting gardens, or containers.

How to Grow and Care for Acidanthera

It is best to plant Acidanthera bulbs at a depth of 9 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches). Use a spacing of about 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) apart in the late spring.

Sword lilies prefers light, and should be grown in areas that receive full sunlight.

If starting Acidanthera plants indoors for later transplanting, then they should be sown in the spring.

Acidanthera bicolor and similar plants require between 30 to 90 days for germination. Do so at a temperature of 10 to 13 degrees Celsius (50 to 55°F).

The soil in which Acidanthera plants grow should be well drained. Plants require regular watering during the growing season, and monthly feeds of liquid fertiliser.

Acidanthera Growing and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Abyssinian gladiolus, Abyssinian sword lily, Fragrant gladiolus, Sword Lily.
  • Life Cycle: Half-hardy bulb.
  • Height: 28 to 40 inches (70—100 cm).
  • Native: Africa.
  • Growing Region: Zones 8 to 10, down to zone 7 with heavy mulching if planted deeply. Often grown as an annual in zones 3 to 8.
  • Flowers: Late spring to autumn.
  • Flower Details: White, with maroon or orange blotch in its throat. Pointed. Slender stems. Fragrant.
  • Foliage: Sword-shaped/ linear.
  • Sow/Plant:
    Seeds: (Zone 10 only). Sow in 5—6 inch pots (12-15 cm). Cover seed. Following the last frost. Keep pots in a shaded part of the garden. Germinates in one to three months at 50°F (10°C).. Bring indoors for the winter. Repeat for two years. Then overwinter bulbs indoors with no water and transplant to final location following the last frost.
    Bulbs: 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm). Late in spring. Space at 6 to 12 inches (15—30 cm).
  • Requirements and care: Full sunlight. Average soil. Good drainage. Regular watering during periods of growth. Supply a liquid feed every four weeks. Bring corms indoors for the winter in cooler areas (about two months before the expected last frost). Protect from aphids and slugs. Propagate: by dividing in late spring.
  • Family: Iridaceae
  • Closely Related Species: Flags and Irises.
  • Miscellaneous: Members of the Acidanthera are now included in the Gladiolus and the Savannosiphon genera. Often sold as Acidanthera bicolor Murielae.

Common Questions

How many members does the Acidanthera genus have?

The Acidanthera genus, is now placed in the Gladiolus genus, which consists of about 260 species.

Do members of Acidanthera make a good garden or landscaping plant?

Yes, Acidanthera, also known as Peacock Orchids, are often used in summer flower beds and borders.

Which Acidanthera species are most frequently grown by gardeners?

The most commonly grown species is Acidanthera bicolor or Gladiolus murielae (Peacock Orchid).

Are members of the Acidanthera fragrant?

Yes, Acidanthera bicolor (Peacock Orchid) is known for its fragrant, star-shaped white flowers.

What is the perfect location to grow Acidanthera?

Acidanthera prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It is ideal for growing in a warm, sheltered spot or in a pot.

Is Acidanthera invasive in the USA, if so in which states?

Acidanthera is not typically considered invasive in the USA. It is a bulb plant (native to East Africa).

How do I remove Acidanthera from my garden?

Removal can be achieved by digging up the bulbs. Make sure to get the entire bulb to prevent regrowth.


Acidanthera Genus: Growth and Habitat

The Acidanthera genus, also known as Abyssinian gladiolus or Acidanthera, is composed of perennial bulbous plants. Native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, they thrive in warm climates. Acidanthera plants prefer well-drained soil with organic matter and full sun exposure. These plants require regular watering, especially during their growing season. Acidanthera species are admired for their elegant, white flowers with a prominent purple blotch. They are commonly cultivated for their striking appearance and are often used in cut flower arrangements.

I hope that you found this guide on how to grow grow Acidanthera plants in your garden. You may also enjoy my gardening guides on how to grow Safflower, Zinnia elegans, and Helichrysum plants.