Botanical Name: Gloriosa (plant)
Common Names: Flame lily, Fire lily, Gloriosa lily, Glory lily, Superb lily, Climbing lily, and Creeping lily
Habitat:Gloriosa (plant) is native to tropical and southern Africa to Asia, and naturalised in Australia and the Pacific as well as being widely cultivated. It grows locally common in brushwood, hedges and open forest, usually at elevations up to 300 metres, occasionally to 600 metres.
Gloriosa are herbaceous perennials 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.
“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, boner 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
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. Plants have leaf tip tendrils.
A plant of the lowland tropics and subtropics, where it can be found at elevations up to 600 metres, the plant has a clear preference for seasonal, monsoon climates with a pronounced dry season. The plant is not resistant to frost.
Succeeds in full sun to partial shade. Prefers a moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil. Prefers an acid to neutral soil.
The plant has often escaped from cultivation and has been classified as ‘Invasive’ in some areas.
Plants propagated from seeds take 3 – 4years to bloom.
Plants can flower and produce seeds all year round, though mainly during the rainy season.
In Tamil Nadu, India, small-scale plantings, raised from tubers, yield on average 250 – 300 kilos of seed per hectare from the second year onwards. In South Africa the seed production of ‘wild-type’ plants is positively correlated with height of the plant, and is on average 258 seeds per plant for plants 60 – 65cm tall compared with about 30 seeds per plant for plants 30 – 40cm tall.
“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.” Growth stops if temperatures are of the order of 15 ° and the dies when subjected to 12 ° during this time. La Gloriosa is an extremely fragile and delicate flower, tough to cultivate.
Although poisonous, the plant is often used in traditional medicine both in Asia and in Africa. Mainly used in external applications, it is also often injested in small quantities.
In Ayurvedic medicine the tuber is used as an abortifacient, alterative, antiarthritic, antihaemorrhoid, antileprotic, antiperiodic, cholagogue, purgative and tonic. It is considered to be useful in the treatment of ulcers, leprosy, piles, inflammations, abdominal pains, itching and thirst.
At low doses, the tuber is considered to have numerous medicinal applications in Africa. A decoction is taken to treat abdominal disorders, to induce abortions, as a tonic and as a purgative. The tuber is sometimes used as an emetic to induce vomiting as a means of removing toxins from the body. The tuber is also part of a preparation used to treat impotence and to act as an abortifacient. The sap is an ingredient of a drink that induces sleep.
Applied externally, the tuber is used in the treatment of bruises, colic, chronic ulcers, haemorrhoids and cancer. It is put into poultices to relieve neuralgia, and used in topical applications to treat arthritic conditions, swellings of the joints, sprains and dislocations. It is claimed to have antidotal properties to snakebites. The macerated tuber is also taken against smallpox, leprosy, eczema, itch, and ringworm. A paste made from the tuber is applied externally to facilitate parturition. The juice of the tuber is used as ear drops to treat earache, and is also applied to the gums to treat painful teeth.
The anthelmintic properties of the tuber, fruits and leaves are widely known and they are all used to treat infections of Guinea worms, schistosomes (causing bilharzia), roundworm, tapeworm, liver fluke and filaria. Leaf juice, unripe fruits mixed with butter, and tuber macerate are frequently used to kill head lice.
Soup made from leaf or tuber sap is given to women suffering from sterility, delayed puberty, delayed childbirth and menstrual problems.
The leaves are administered in an enema as a decongestant. The juice of the plant is drunk as an antimalarial.
Used externally, a leaf decoction is applied as a liniment to ease coughs, general pain and dropsy of the scrotum. Leaf juice is instilled into the nose in the treatment of fainting. The crushed leaves are applied to the chest to treat asthma and to affected areas to treat rheumatism. The herb is burnt and the ash applied to wounds in order to promote healing. Sap from the leaf tip is applied externally to treat pimples and skin eruptions.
The seeds are a commercial source of colchicine, an amino alkaloid which is biosynthetically derived from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. The tubers also contain colchicine, but the content of the seeds is reported to be up to ten times higher, hence the importance attached to good seed set when the plant is grown for colchicine production. Colchicine is used in the treatment of gout and rheumatism. At present it is the drug of choice for acute gout. It reduces the inflammatory reaction to urate crystals deposited in the joints. Because of its highly toxic nature, colchicine should be used under supervision of a physician.
Colchicine, obtained from all parts of the plant but particularly the seeds, inhibits cell division and is used in plant breeding to produce polyploidy.
Extracts of the shoots and of the tubers of the plant show strong nematicidal activity, which can be largely attributed to colchicine.
The whole plant is highly toxic due to the presence of the alkaloid colchicine. Diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains are often the first signs of poisoning. The diarrhoea may become severe and haemorrhagic, and can thus lead to metabolic acidosis, dehydration, hypotension and shock. A burning sensation in the throat, stomach and skin may also be an early sign of intoxication. Severe reactions include extensive vascular damage and acute renal toxicity with oliguria and haematuria. The patients may develop convulsions, delirium, muscle weakness, neuropathy and ascending paralysis of the central nervous system. In patients who have taken an overdose of Gloriosa superba bulbs, death occurs as a result of respiratory depression and cardiovascular collapse.