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Flame Lily – The national flower of Zimbabwe

(Gloriosa superba)


Flame Lily

Flame Lily courtesy James Varden

The flame lily is widespread in tropical and southern Africa, thriving on the sparse savannah woodlands, sand dunes and grassland in sandy loam soil. This perennial herb can reach a height of around 3 metres, rambling and and climbing over neighbouring plants using the tendrils at the end of its leaves.

A spectacular climber with striking distinctive flowers of subtle colour variations from a dark pink/red, red through to yellow and orange. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous due to the presence of toxic alkaloids including colchicine and can be fatal if eaten. Even to touch the plant can result in skin irritation.

Courtesy Sue-Christian-Bell

The distinctive flame lily, the national flower of Zimbabwe
Courtesy Sue Christian Bell – Art

A word of caution… Known to have been the cause of many accidental deaths, this tuberous rooted deciduous plant has also been used to poison dogs and induce abortions. That said, some moles and African porcupines appear to be able to nibble at the roots with no ill effect.

Medicinal uses… The flame lily does however, have its uses in traditional medicine within tropical Africa. The Alkaloid colchicine has been used as an effective method of treating painful gout conditions, infertility, wounds and intestinal worms. It’s also been used treating kidney problems, arthritis, colic, cholera and ulcers

A national treasure… as the national flower of Zimbabwe, the flame lily is a protected plant within the country. Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a flame lily diamond brooch as a gift from Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia as it was then) when she visited as crown princess in 1947

Protection… the flame lily is cultivated for its beautiful flowers but not in Zimbabwe – because it’s the country’s national flower it’s protected under the Parks and Wildlife Act from illegal harvesting.

The plant’s scientific name is Gloriosa superba (Gloriosa meaning full of glory and superba meaning superb) but it’s more commonly known as the flame lily, glory lily, climbing lily or creeping lily.

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