Gladiolus is not the first flower that one thinks of when asked to name a flower with good scent. It is true that the large florists' gladioli have no scent to speak of, but many of the smaller flowered species have very attractive scent. At this time of the year, we get at Phillipskop the autumn-flowering Gladiolus martleyi. This species produces a wonderful scent reminiscent of roses. The only problem is that one has to get down to its level, barely a foot above the ground, to smell it.
Gladiolus martleyi bears an uncanny resemblance to another common autumn-flowering species Gladiolus brevifolius. Both grow in this area and, like other autumn-flowering Gladiolus, both produce their leaves later in the season. Unfortunately, distinguishing them on flowers alone is only for the experienced gladiolus expert. For the rest of us, we need to wait a month or so for the leaves to emerge (or scrabble around for the dry decaying remains of last year's leaves). Then the difference is obvious: the leaves of Gladiolus martleyi are smooth and thinly cylindrical with four longitudinal grooves, whereas those of Gladiolus brevifolius are finely hairy and flattish. In general, Gladiolus martleyi is scented, as our plants here are, whereas Gladiolus brevifolius is unscented. However, apparently some populations of Gladiolus brevifolius do have scent while conversely some of Gladiolus martleyi don't.
Gladiolus martleyi is a widespread species in the Western Cape, ranging from Nieuwoudtville area to the Cape Peninsula and east as far as Albertinia. Despite this it was only described as recently as 1933. Before this it was confused with Gladiolus brevifolius, which as already stated, has almost identical flowers. It was only when plants from J.F. Martley were grown at Kirstenbosch that the flowers could be matched up with the subsequent leaves to establish that it differed significantly from Gladiolus brevifolius.