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Gloriosa superba L. 1753
pronounced: glo-ree-OH-suh soo-PER-buh
(Liliaceae — the lily family)
common names: Glory Lily, Flame Lily
As I’m sure you will realize, gloriosus is Latin for ‘glorious’, and superbus for ‘superb’. The name of the plant, with the –a endings, puts it into the feminine gender, and the flower is indeed a glorious and superb female, even if the plant is, in many parts of Australia, an invasive weed. It is a particular pest where it forms dense understorey carpets in dune systems along the coast, competing strongly with native flora. Moreton Island, near Brisbane, is heavily infested with this weed. As any local gardener will confirm, it is very hard to eradicate. The smallest bit of rhizome left in the ground after a plant has been dug up will regenerate.
This native of Africa and Asia is grown commercially in some countries for a chemical compound it contains, colchicine. This is used in the treatment of gout, and also has many uses in naturopathic medicine, especially for back pain. It is used in traditional medicine in some African countries, to treat intestinal worms, bruises, pimples and skin eruptions, and for impotence. The plant has been harvested so heavily in parts of India for pharmaceutical use that it is considered locally to be an endangered species! Those not skilled in the preparation of the various extracts for medicinal use should be warned, however, that all parts of the plant, both above and below ground, are extremely toxic if eaten, and the plant has been responsible for the poisoning of both humans and livestock.
All that said, it is a very pretty flower, and it is easy to see why it is such a popular garden ornamental in many parts of the world, including parts of Australia.
Glory Lily is an annual or perennial herb (depending on winter severity) with subterranean rhizomes, and with climbing stems up to 4 m long. The lanceolate leaves are shiny, green and hairless with 1–2 cm long tendrils at the tips, and these tendrils curl around supporting plants or trellises. The wavy-edged flowers are 5–7 cm wide, yellow, orange and red, borne singly on spreading stalks that arise in leaf forks. The flowers, which grow from October to May, appear to be upside-down, with the six red petals with yellow scalloped edges pointing upwards and the stamens pointing downwards. The seed pod is shaped like a rugby ball, 4–10 cm long and 1–2 cm wide. The seeds are initially orange to red before drying to brown balls 4–5 mm in diameter. In cooler climates, the top growth dies off in the winter before re-shooting in the spring. The plant is propagated either by division or by seed, and seeds may remain dormant for up to about 9 months.
The flowers are very fragile, and when sold as cut flowers are sometimes sold in clear plastic ‘balloons’ with the stem ends in small flasks of water. It has only been grown for the cut flower trade in recent years, and is grown in glasshouses in Holland, and also in Victoria.
The flower is a national flower of Zimbabwe.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2013
Page last updated 7th December 2016