1. Family: Colchicaceae DC.
    1. Genus: Gloriosa L.
      1. Gloriosa superba L.

        Flame lily is a tuberous herb, which is widespread in tropical and southern Africa and in tropical Asia. The generic name Gloriosa means ‘full of glory’ and the specific epithet superba means ‘superb’, alluding to the striking red and yellow flowers.


    Liliaceae, F. N. Hepper. Flora of West Tropical Africa 3:1. 1968

    Common forest climber
    Flowers turning from yellow to red.

    Colchicaceae, Kim Hoenselaar. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 2005

    Herb, stem erect, simple or branched, sometimes not higher than 40 cm, or plant scandent or climbing, up to several meters long.
    Leaves alternate, sometimes opposite or verticillate and clustered, sometimes clustered above the middle of the stem, sessile, base sometimes sheathing the stem, ranging from linear, elliptic-lanceolate, elliptic to ovate, 6–17.5 cm long, 0.4–5 cm wide, apex acute, acuminate, falcate or ending in a tendril.
    Flowers solitary, axillary, sometimes terminal, different shades of yellow, orange, red, crimson, purple/mauve stripes or fading purple, often bicolored; pedicel erect, recurved apically, 3.5–18 cm long.
    Perianth sometimes at the base connate into a short tube, up to 2 mm long; perianth segments (strongly) reflexed, base clawed, narrowly elliptic-linear, oblong-lanceolate, sometimes ovate to obovate, 29–85 mm long, 4–25(–38) mm wide, the margins sometimes crisped,apex acuminate to acute, sometimes falcate.
    Filaments filiform, sometimes flattened, 10–45 mm long; anthers straight to curved, 5.5–15 mm long.
    Ovary 4–13 mm long, 1–5 mm wide; style 9–50 mm long.
    Capsule 37–50 mm long, 10–14 mm in diameter; seeds 4 mm.

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Flame lily is a climber with spectacular red and yellow flowers, but all parts of the plant (especially the tubers) are extremely poisonous and can be fatal if eaten.

    Flame lily is a tuberous herb, which is widespread in tropical and southern Africa and in tropical Asia. The generic name Gloriosa means ‘full of glory’ and the specific epithet superba means ‘superb’, alluding to the striking red and yellow flowers.

    All parts of the plant, but especially the tubers (swollen, underground stems), are extremely poisonous and the ingestion of flame lily has caused many accidental deaths. It has also been used to commit murder, suicide, to induce abortions and to poison dogs. African porcupines and some moles are reputed to be able to consume the roots with no ill effects.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Native to tropical and southern Africa, and temperate and tropical Asia (where it occurs in China, Indochina and from the Indian Subcontinent to the Lesser Sunda Islands). It has been found up to 2,500 m above sea level. It is widely naturalised (including in Europe and Australia) and is listed as a weed in Australia and in some parts of the USA. Gloriosa superba is common throughout much of its range. However, in some areas of India (Patalkot, Chhindwara District), Bangladesh and Sri Lanka it has been assessed as rare, and natural populations are believed to be in decline. In the Indian state of Orissa, for example, where G. superba used to be common, it is now on the verge of extinction according to the Wildlife Institute of India.


    A perennial, tuberous, climbing (sometimes erect) herb, up to 4 m long. The leaves are simple (undivided). The leaf blade has strong, parallel nerves and ends in a tendril-like spiral. The solitary flowers are bisexual, showy, pendulous and 4.5–7 cm in diameter. The pedicel (flower stalk) can be up to 20 cm long. The flowers are usually red and yellow with crisply waved margins. The fruit is a large (up to 6 cm long), oblong capsule. It is thought that pollination is probably carried out by butterflies and sunbirds.

    Threats and conservation

    Flame lily is in decline in some areas of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and southern Africa, due to over-collection of the seeds and tubers. Although commercially cultivated in southern India, it is estimated that pharmacies and drug manufacturers in India fulfil up to 75% of their raw material demand from wild populations.

    Conservation assessments carried out by Kew

    Gloriosa superba is being monitored as part of the Sampled Red List Index Project, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

    Learn more about this project


    Flame lily has a wide variety of uses, especially within traditional medicine as practised in tropical Africa and Asia (including Ayurvedic medicine in India). It contains the alkaloid colchicine, which has been used effectively to treat acute gout, intestinal worms, infertility, wounds and other skin problems. It has also been used as an antidote for snake bite, as a laxative, and to induce abortion. It has proven useful in the treatment of chronic ulcers, arthritis, cholera, colic, kidney problems and typhus.

    Colchicine is widely used as an experimental tool in the study of cell division, as it can inhibit mitosis (a type of cell division), induce polyploidy (cells containing more than two sets of chromosomes), and has been used in the treatment of cancer.

    Gloriosa superba is widely cultivated as an ornamental for its stunning flowers. It is the national flower of Zimbabwe (where it is protected from illegal harvesting under the Parks and Wildlife Act).

    This species at Kew

    Flame lily can be seen growing in the Temperate House, Palm House and Waterlily House at Kew.

    Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Gloriosa superba are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these, including images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

    Specimens of flame lily tubers are also held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where they are available for study, by appointment.

    Sparse savanna woodlands, grasslands, sand dunes, in abandoned fields or at the boundaries of cultivated ground and roadsides; in sandy-loam soil.
    Least Concern according to IUCN Red List criteria.

    All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous due to the presence of toxic alkaloids, including colchicine; ingestion can be fatal; contact can result in skin irritation.

    Medicinal, ornamental.



    Found In:

    Andaman Is., Angola, Assam, Bangladesh, Benin, Borneo, Botswana, Burkina, Burundi, Cabinda, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Provinces, Caprivi Strip, Central African Repu, Chad, China South-Central, Congo, East Himalaya, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., India, Ivory Coast, Jawa, Kenya, Laccadive Is., Laos, Lesser Sunda Is., Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaya, Maldives, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Northern Provinces, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sulawesi, Sumatera, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

    Introduced Into:

    Cook Is., Fiji, Gilbert Is., Line Is., Nauru, New South Wales, Norfolk Is., Queensland, Réunion, Santa Cruz Is., Society Is., Solomon Is., Suriname, Tokelau-Manihiki, Trinidad-Tobago, Windward Is.

    Common Names

    Flame lily

    Gloriosa superba L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jul 1, 2007 Tchiengue, B. [2772], Cameroon K000518671
    Dec 1, 2003 Etuge, M. [4359 r], Cameroon K000212735
    Mar 1, 2002 Etuge, M. [1749], Cameroon K000025718
    Mar 1, 2002 Etuge, M. [2189], Cameroon K000025720
    May 1, 1995 Cable, S. [10], Cameroon K000011652
    Jan 1, 1995 Ndam, N. [184], Cameroon K000542353
    Jan 1, 1995 Cheek, M. [5706], Cameroon K000011653
    Jan 1, 1995 Cheek, M. [5721], Cameroon K000011654
    Jan 1, 1994 Quartin-Dillon [48], Ethiopia K000365965 isosyntype
    Jan 1, 1994 Schimper [1437], Ethiopia K000365966 isotype
    Jan 1, 1994 Schimper [1437], Ethiopia K000365967 isotype
    Jan 1, 1994 Turton, D. [76], Ethiopia K000480413
    Jan 1, 1994 Mooney, H.F. [8815], Ethiopia K000480416
    Jan 1, 1994 Amshoff, G.J.H. [7614], Ethiopia K000480417
    Feb 3, 1924 Wight, R. [5757], Nepal K000524985
    Eagleton, G. [71], Somalia K000480423
    Thollon, M. [22], Gabon K000480430
    Pobéguin, C.H.O. [383], Guinea K000480434
    Pobéguin, C.H.O. [383], Guinea K000480435
    Haswell, D.R. [134], Sierra Leone K000480436
    Phillipson, P.B. [4136], Madagascar K000480441
    Phillipson, P.B. [4136], Madagascar K000480442
    Sangkhachand, B. [1059], Thailand K000480443
    Monyrak, M. [207], Cambodia K000480444
    Buwalda, P. [7156], Indonesia K000480445
    Jayasuriya, A.H.M. [1439], Sri Lanka K000480446
    Carpenter, T. [275], Maldives K000480447
    Xiulan, H. [281], China K000480448
    Mathew, B. [42631], India K000480449
    T [141], Malaysia K000480450
    Hutton, I. [640], Australia K000480451
    Rogers, F.A. [25245], South Africa K000480452
    Cecil, E. [224], Zimbabwe K000365961 holotype
    Meller, C.J. [s.n.], Mozambique K000365963
    Meller, C.J. [s.n.], Mozambique K000365964 Unknown type material
    Brummitt, R.K. [8868], Malawi 34784.000
    Wallich, N. [5757G], Nepal K000524984
    Ash [575], Ethiopia 37437.000
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104967
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104968
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104969
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104970
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157], Nepal K001104971
    Gilbert, M.G. [3136], Ethiopia K000480414
    Gomez, W. [Cat. no. 5157], Myanmar K001104972
    Gilbert, M.G. [2195], Ethiopia K000480415
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104973
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104974
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5157] K001104975
    Gilbert, M.G. [4657], Ethiopia K000480418
    Kasmi, S.M.A. [643], Somalia K000480419
    Synnott, T.J. [449], Somalia K000480420
    Pollard, B.J. [103], Cameroon K000025719
    Alstrup, V. [156], Somalia K000480422

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 305 (1753)

    Accepted in:

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