Gloriosa superba (Lindl)

Family : Colchicaceae
Common names:
Flame lily (E), isimiselo (Z), Vlamlelie (A)

Gloriosa superba is a striking tuberous climbing plant with brilliant wavy-edged yellow and red flowers. There is also a more bushy, yellow-flowered form. The name Gloriosa comes from the word gloriosus, which means handsome and superba form the word superb clearly alluding to the beautiful flowers which appear from November to March. Naturally it occurs in semi-shade areas among bush on hillsides along the Cape coast, Natal, Swaziland, Northern Province, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Flame lilies are grown commercially for a chemical compound. They are also used by certain people to treat intestinal worms, bruises, infertility, skin problem and impotence. It is also said that sap from the leaf tip is used for pimples and skin eruptions by Tswana and Masai farm workers (Roberts, 1990).

NB. Chemical research showed that all part of this plant, both above and below ground, are extremely poisonous and ingestion could be fatal.

Yello form of Gloriosa superba

Growing Gloriosa superba

Propagate this plant from seed sown in September-October and be patient because the seed might take up to four month to germinate. Seedlings should be planted straight out in the garden in an equal mix of good garden soil and compost.

The flame lily must be allowed to scramble up through trees, alternatively provide a trellis in semi-shade area. In summer it needs to be well watered, however water should be withheld once the foliage begins to turn yellow. The tubers are prone to rot under moist conditions during the winter months. The tubers are brittle and fragile and need to be handled carefully. Tubers can only be lifted and split or moved during the dormant period.

Thompson T Mutshinyalo
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
January 2001

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website