Gloriosa is a genus of 12 species in the plant family Colchicaceae, and include the formerly recognised genus Littonia. They are native in tropical and southern Africa to Asia, and naturalised in Australia and the Pacific as well as being widely cultivated. The most common English names are flame lily, fire lily, gloriosa lily, glory lily, superb lily, climbing lily, and creeping lily.
They are tender, tuberous rooted deciduous perennials, adapted to summer rainfall with a dormant dry season. All parts of the plant contain colchicine and related alkaloids and are therefore dangerously toxic if ingested, and contact with the stems and leaves can cause skin irritation. Various preparations of the plant are used in traditional medicines for a variety of complaints in both Africa and India. In Indian language of Telugu, in the state of Andhra Pradesh it is called Naabhi and was used in traditional medicine.
Gloriosa are perennial herbs that climb or scramble over other plants with the aid of tendrils at the ends of their leaves and can reach 3 meters in height. They have showy flowers, many with distinctive and pronouncedly reflexed petals, like a Turk’s cap lily, ranging in colour from a greenish-yellow through yellow, orange, red and sometimes even a deep pinkish-red.
Some synonyms, arising from the many variations, for Gloriosa superba include G. rothschildiana (or G. superba ‘Rothschildiana’), G. simplex, G. virescens, G. abyssinica, G. carsonii and G. lutea.
"Scandent herbs, the rootstock a horizontal rhizome, the stem leafy, the leaves spirally arranged or subopposite, the upper ones with cirrhose tips; flowers solitary, large, borne on long, spreading pedicels, actinomorphic, hermaphrodite; perianth segments 6, free, lanceolate, keeled within at base, long-persistent; stamens 6, hypogynous, the anthers extrorse, medifixed and versatile, opening by longitudinal slits; ovary superior, 3-celled, the carpels cohering only by their inner margins, the ovules numerous, the style deflected at base and projecting from the flower more or less horizontally; fruit a loculicidal capsule with many seeds"
There are 12 accepted species of Gloriosa, ignoring hybrids, varieties and cultivars. About 38 proposed descriptions of other species are currently rejected as synonyms or unresolved for lack of sufficient data.
- Gloriosa baudii (A.Terracc.) Chiov. - Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya
- Gloriosa carsonii Baker - C + E + S Africa
- Gloriosa flavovirens (Dammer) J.C.Manning & Vinn. - Angola
- Gloriosa katangensis Maroyi - S Zaïre
- Gloriosa lindenii (Baker) J.C.Manning & Vinn. - C + SE Africa
- Gloriosa littonioides (Welw. ex Baker) J.C.Manning & Vinn. - C + SC Africa
- Gloriosa modesta (Hook.) J.C.Manning & Vinn. - southern Africa
- Gloriosa revoilii (Franch.) J.C.Manning & Vinn. - NE Africa, Yemen
- Gloriosa rigidifolia (Bredell) J.C.Manning & Vinn. - Limpopo
- Gloriosa sessiliflora Nordal & Bingham - Angola, Zambia, Caprivi
- Gloriosa simplex L. - sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar
- Gloriosa superba L. - sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, Indian Subcontinent, SE Asia
G. superba description
A "scandent plant, climbing by leaftip tendrils. The perianth segments, which are accrescent during anthesis and become reflexed, are striking in color, yellow proximally and at margins and dark red in the median portion".
In Australia, "scattered naturalized populations exist in the understorey of coastal dry sclerophyll forest and sand dune vegetation throughout south-east Queensland and New South Wales". It is considered a rampant and dangerous invasive weed in Australia, dominating the coastal dunes at the expense of native species and leading to deaths of native animals and birds when ingested.
In India, Gloriosa is distributed in the Western Ghats but the density is rapidly decreasing due to excessive uprooting by the Herbal Medicine producers.
"Propagation generally occurs from seeds, although mature plants can be divided and grown from tubers. The hard seeds can remain dormant for 6-9 months."
All parts of the Gloriosa contain colchicine, the roots and seeds are especially rich. The lethal dose of colchicine is about 6 mg/kg, and Gloriosa superba has been used as a means of committing suicide.
Gloriosa superba is the national flower of Zimbabwe (where it is a protected plant). A diamond brooch in the shape of the flame lily was a gift from Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia, later Rhodesia) to Queen Elizabeth II on a visit in 1947 while she was still the crown princess.
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
- Smith, Albert C. 1979. Flora Vitiensis nova: A new flora of Fiji (Spermatophytes only). Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden, Lawai, Kauai, Hawaii. 1:141-142 in Biodiversity Heritage Library
- The Plant List (2010). Version 1. Published on the Internet; http://www.theplantlist.org/ (accessed December 2012).
- World Checklist of Monocots at www.kew.org
- Csurhes, S., Edwards, R. 1998. Potential environmental weeds in Australia: Candidate species for preventative control. Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia, Canberra. pp. 164-165 pdf
- Martindale - the Extra Pharmacopoeia
- Allender, WJ (1982) J. Forensic Sci. 27: 944-947.
- Royal Collection http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/microsites/queenandcommonwealth/MicroObject.asp?row=92&themeid=944&item=92
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