Turkey-chick (Gladiolus alatus)

Gladiolus alatus flower
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Turkey-chick fact file

Turkey-chick description

GenusGladiolus (1)

The peculiarly named turkey-chick is a geophyte (2); a plant that can survive periods of unfavourable conditions due to an underground food-storage organ (4). The turkey-chick has sickle-shaped, ribbed leaves and dazzling, delicate flowers (2), adapted for bee pollination (5). The flowers have a two-lipped structure, with a straight upper petal, and are bright orange with conspicuous yellowish-green patches on the lower petals (6).

Height: 8 - 25 cm (2)

Turkey-chick biology

The turkey-chick produces flowers from August until September (2), soon after the main rainy period when plant growth is optimal (5). The flowers produce a weak, slightly acrid odour (5), which attracts bees, particularly the species Anthophora diversipes and Rediviva aurata (7). As a bee drinks the flower’s rich nectar from a tube at the back of the flower, pollen rubs on to the bee. At the next flower the bee feeds from, pollen grains will be deposited, and thus pollination occurs (5) (7).


Turkey-chick range

Endemic to the Cape Floristic Region, an area in south-western South Africa which is home to the highest density of plant species in the world. The turkey-chick is distributed from the Bokkeveld Mountains, south to Bredasdorp (2).


Turkey-chick habitat

The turkey-chick grows on flats, slopes and plateaus, mainly in sand (2).


Turkey-chick status

Variety Gladiolus alatus var. algoensis is classified as Endangered on the Red Data List of Southern African Plants (3).


Turkey-chick threats

The variety Gladiolus alatus var. algoensis is classified as Endangered but there is no information available indicating what specific threats this plant may face. However, as it is endemic to the Cape Floristic Region, it is likely to be affected by a number of threats which are impacting the natural habitat of this botanically unique area. These threats include urban development, the encroachment of agriculture, and the invasion of alien plant species (8) (9).


Turkey-chick conservation

Within the Cape Floristic Region, there are a number of protected areas and a number of conservation organisations are working to conserve this botanically rich habitat (10). Conservation actions include purchasing land to protect it from the threats of encroaching agriculture and urban development (11), the removal of alien plants, and the establishment of new protected areas (8); measures which should benefit the endangered variety of this beautifully unusual flower.


Find out more

For further information on the Cape Floristic Region and its conservation see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk


Cape Floristic Region
An area occupying about 90,000 square kilometres in South Africa that contains an incredibly high diversity of plant species (around 8,700 species), of which 68 percent are found no where else.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
In taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, variety is the rank below subspecies. Members of a variety differ from others of the same species in relatively minor ways.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2008)
  2. Goldblatt, P. and Manning, J. (2000) Cape Plants: A Conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. National Botanical Institute of South Africa, Pretoria .
  3. Hilton-Taylor, C. (1996) Red Data List of Southern African Plants. Strelitzia 4. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.
  4. Allaby, M. (1998) Dictionary of Plant Sciences. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Goldblatt, P., Manning, J.C. and Bernhardt, P. (1998) Adaptive radiation of bee-pollinated Gladiolus species (Iridaceae) in southern Africa. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 85(3): 492 - 517.
  6. Paterson-Jones, C. and Manning, J. (2007) Ecoguide Fynbos. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.
  7. Goldblatt, P., Manning, J.C. and Bernhardt, P. (2001) Radiation of pollination systems in Gladiolus (Iridaceae: Crocoideae) in southern Africa. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 88(4): 713 - 734.
  8. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (February, 2008)
  9. Rouget, M., Richardson, D.M., Cowling, R.M., Lloyd, J.W. and Lombard, A.T. (2003) Current patterns of habitat transformation and future threats to biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems of the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. Biological Conservation, 112: 63 - 85.
  10. UNEP-WCMC: Cape Floral Protected Areas of South Africa (February, 2008)
  11. Fauna and Flora International (February, 2008)

Image credit

Gladiolus alatus flower  
Gladiolus alatus flower

© Colin Paterson-Jones / naturalvisions.co.uk

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