Flame Lily - The Gloriosa Superba

As a member of the Colchicaceae family, the Gloriosa superba is a magnificent plant that resembles tongues of fire in their shape and colour.

Gloriosa Superba is known by many names, including the flame lily and climbing lily, and the isimiselo in Zulu. Gloriosa is an ornamental flower. However, they are also notorious for being extremely poisonous, and have been used to kill both humans and animals in the past.

Did you know? Every part of the Gloriosa superba is extremely poisonous and should never be ingested in any form.

The beautiful Gloriosa superba is characterised by a flower that forms a tear-drop shape, with narrow petals that curve upwards toward each other. There are red and yellow varieties and the leaves have wavy edges. It climbs using tendrils, reaching a height of about four metres, while the leaves reach about 20 centimetres in length. The fruit of the flame lily is a capsule that can be between six and 12 centimetres long, and is filled with red seeds.

Flowering time

The Gloriosa superba flowers first appear in November, and remain in full glory until around March. This plant does well in the heat, known as a summer bloomer.

Use in the garden

Every part of the Gloriosa superba is extremely poisonous and should never be ingested in any form. Some cultures use them to treat infertility, impotence, intestinal worms and bad bruising. However, this is at enormous risk and is not recommended for anyone.

Of course, the plant is very beautiful, and adds a vibrancy and striking charm to any garden when in flower. Being pollinated by pretty butterflies and sunbirds means that these lovely visitors are attracted to the garden that is home to Gloriosa superba.

Natural distribution

Naturally, the Gloriosa superba is found throughout southern Africa. This includes South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Within South Africa, it is particularly prolific in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape. It does well in a variety of habitat types; ranging from humid forests to sand dunes and grassy plains.

Growing Gloriosa superba in your garden

This plant prefers semi-shady conditions, in amongst bushy vegetation and on the hillsides of South Africa. They require healthy soil and compost to thrive in the garden. Place it next to a wall with a trellis or a tree so that it is able to climb.

Water it well during the hot summer months. As soon as the foliage begins to take on a yellow hue, decrease the amount of water you give it. In winter, withhold water so that the tubers do not rot.


The Gloriosa superba is pollinated by butterflies and sunbirds, despite being so toxic. It can be grown from seed, which should then be planted in September or October. These will take approximately four months to germinate. Once they have become seedlings, they can be planted into the garden. During the dormant period, the tubers can be lifted, split or moved quite healthily.

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