Plant Description

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba

The glory lily - sometimes called the climbing lily - is from Africa and considered by many taxonomists to be a member of the lily family, though others think it belongs to the colchicum family! There is only one species, Gloriosa superba, and all other variants are considered to be cultivars of this species.

It is a tuberous perennial that comes up in late spring or early summer and grows to a height of between 1.5-2m, climbing on wires or other plants by means of leaf-tip tendrils which it winds around the nearest support. It has amazingly exotic flowers like claws, each with six recurved wavy petals and stamens splayed out below the petals. The flowers are usually red or orange-red with yellow edges, and can vary in size depending on the cultivar.

The cultivar 'Rothschildiana' is considered to be one of the most spectacular. The flowers appear in January, February and March in Sydney. When the glory lily winds through a nearby shrub, it seems as if a flock of gorgeous butterflies has arrived in the garden.

It is a semitropical plant which dislikes frosts so it is grown in glasshouses in cool climates but in Sydney we can grow it in the garden. It needs a sunny spot with well-drained soil, as it has a dormant period from late summer to mid spring, when it needs to be kept rather dry. It can be grown in pots (best kept dry during the dormant period) but best results are from tubers grown in the ground. The brittle fleshy tuber looks a bit like a piece of culinary ginger and when they are mature they comprise two joined lobes that can be divided in autumn after the plant has died down, to form new plants. The tubers are poisonous if eaten and can cause skin irritation from being handled, so it is best to wear gloves when planting or dividing them.

In warmer areas to the north of Sydney, the glory lily is regarded as a noxious weed. The fruit of the plant can be poisonous to native wildlife. It is wise not to allow tubers to colonise bushland areas. Where there is the possibility of the plant having an adverse effect on bushland it should probably not be grown, or should be kept in a pot.


Gloriosa superba
Flowers from January to March.
Plant Family: Colchicaceae

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