UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  indianco@ufl.edu

May 18,  2005

Feature Article - for release the week of May 22, 2005

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent  

 A Pretty Lily for Florida Yards

Last week I was brought a plant to identify by an Okeechobee resident. To me, it’s an old time friend.  Over the years I enjoyed watching it grow up fences and trellises in South Florida.  Then I found out that it was poisonous, so I backed off my enthusiastic green thumb.

Our local visitor renewed my interest in the Gloriosa Lily.  I’ve also discovered there are a small but growing number of enthusiastic plant lovers who are looking for this unusual tropical lily, and limited number of nurseries that are making it available for gardeners and commercial florists. This week’s column will highlight what we know about growing and using this exotic climbing beauty. 

Gloriosa Lilies may have several different common names in the nursery trade, including Flame Lily, Glory Lily or Climbing Lily. Those found in the landscape are usually a cultivated variety of Gloriosa superba. The named species and varieties of this plant differ in the plant size, waviness of the petals, and the different amounts of red and yellow flower colors.  For example, there is a variety called "Lutea" with pure yellow flowers with slender petals. 

Red and Yellow Glory Lily orange colored Glory Lily Yellow Glory Lily
Photo:  Thompson & Morgan Seed Co.

Photo: Sheila Burrow, Pacific Bulb Society

Photo by Webshots.com member: digitaloma

Gloriosa Lilies grow from a fleshy underground tuber.  As the plant grows through warm season, this storage structure produces two forks that are shaped like miniature sweet potatoes.  This shape may account for some of the cases of poisoning. 

In some area its native range of Africa and Asia, this plant has been over-collected. The wide spread use of its tubers for medicinal purposes has led to its disappearance from some areas.  The Gloriosa Lily has been named the National Flower of Zimbabwe (formerly called Rhodesia).  This flower, know as “Karthigaipoo” to the Tamil Tiger rebels of Sri Lanka, is also their “national” symbol  because of its dangerous qualities and brilliant coloring.

All parts of the plant contain a chemical called colchicine.  Plant scientists may recognize this chemical as the one which will double up the chromosomes in a plant’s DNA, and it is used in hybridizing plants.  This poison is a problem if any part of the plant is swallowed, especially the tubers.  Because of this, plant the Gloriosa lily only where it will not be consumed by livestock, kids or pets.  Initial poisoning symptoms of colchicine develop in 2-6 hours. Contact our office or our webpage if you need to know more about symptoms or first aid for poisoning 

The plants are well adapted to growing on trellises, and can be placed in containers indoors as houseplants.  They do well in most  of Florida in the landscape.  Their thin stems are covered with pairs of 3-4 inch long glossy leaves, tipped at the ends with curly tendrils that help them climb fences or walls. Glory lily plants can stretch up to heights from 3 to 8 feet tall. 


Gloriosa superba

The major cultivated species is Gloriosa superba. Photo courtesy Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, USF

Botanical print of Gloriosa

The structure of the Gloriosa Lily tubers, leaves, flowers fruit and seed are shown in this botanical print by Hopfer, made around 1750.

Picture of Gloriosa rothschildiana

Rothschild's Glory Lily is a name used in horticultural trades.  Photo courtesy US National Arboretum

As with many knock-your-socks-off tropical plants, brilliant flower colors are the reason for adding this plant to your Florida Yard.  Flower buds appear between the leaf and the stem, and when the greenish capsules open, a 4- to 5-inch lily explodes way back on itself with six wavy-edged yellow, orange or red petals.

Choose sunny locations for the Gloriosa Lily for good growth, although partially shady spots may be enough.  Well drained rich soils will support better growth, but avoid planting this flowering tropical perennial in areas with high salts. 

If you find nursery grown plants, they can be planted in your Florida Yard like any other container plant.  Often this plant is only available as a tuber.  If this is your source of planting stock, place the L- or V-shaped “root” in a 2 inch deep hole.  Better results have been seen when this tuber is laid flat in the planting hole.  

Once growing, provide sufficient water to prevent wilting, and add fertilizers as needed to promote maximum plant height, ensuring a maximum number of blooms. Because they have weak stems, carefully tying up the stems on supporting fences or trellises may help extend the blooming period.

Floral boquet with Glory lilysBlooms from this plant can be used as cut flowers. Flowers cut just before the petals bend back may last up to 8 days in an arrangement; splitting the stem end before placing it in the vase will improve water uptake.  Some florists are growing the Gloriosa as a floral crop to make bloom available for floral bouquets.Glory Lily Seed capsules

Unless the seed are desired to grow more plants, remove the capsules to promote continued growth of this plant.  On the other hand, manually self pollinating the plant will increase the number of seed produced.  The pods will contain round reddish seeds, which can be replanted into containers to produce new plants.  

Seeds sprout slowly and make take at much as 4 months to get started.  Seedlings will form tubers within a year, but should be given three growing seasons before placing them in the landscape.

There are few pests that bother this plant.  Aphids may be controlled with soap sprays if needed, and large chewing insects can be picked off by hand.  Other insect pest should be identified before an insecticide is applied.

After blooming, gradually reduce watering and protect the ground from cool, damp conditions. Gloriosa should survive our Florida winter temperatures in the ground.   If desired, the tubers can be carefully dug and divided in two after the vine dies back. Be sure to include a growing point on each division.    In colder areas, dormant tubers can be carefully dug, placed in moist peat moss and brought inside to protect them from temperatures below 20 degrees.

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Gloriosa Lily , please email us at okeechobee@ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners on Tuesday afternoons from 1 to 5 PM on Tuesday afternoons.

Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean Last update: 08/04/2011 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  Hit Counter

For More information:

Botany.com.  Gloriosa.  undated. http://www.botany.com/gloriosa.html  

FlowersBulbs.com.   Gloriosa Lily Bulbs - Uncover the Mystery of the Climbing Lily or Flame Lily (Gloriosa Lily Garden care), undated.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana':   Flame of the Woods, Flame Lily, Climbing Lily, Glory Lily. Florida Gardener Plant of the month,  6/3/2008.  http://floridagardener.com/pom/Gloriosasuperba.htm 

Oudhia, Pankaj   Glory Lily or Kalihari (Gloriosa superba L.)   West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products,  2002.  http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/gloriosa.html 

Plant and Floral Intertrade Pte Ltd.(Singapore).   Commercial Gloriosa Lily Information.  Tillamook, Oregon: FlowersBulbs.com, undated.

Space, Jim.   Gloriosa superba (species account)  Honolulu: Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER) website, February 2004. http://www.hear.org/pier/species/gloriosa_superba.htm 

Wilber,Wendy L.  "I would like to grow a Gloriosa lily."  Gainesville: Alachua County Extension Service,  Weekly Home Horticulture Column, March 2004.   http://alachua.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_and_garden/ask_wendy/winter_2004.shtml#lily 


Glory Lily has been shown on several postage stamps and the coins of Rhodesia.  Here's a sample: