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Weekly “What is it?”: Gloriosa lily

Gloriosa lilies in the Escambia Extension demonstration garden are stunning eye-catchers. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

They appear as undulating licks of flame, dancing across the garden. Every time I see the intricate brilliant red, orange, and yellow petals of this flower, I am awestruck. Like little campfires, the blooms entice the observer to simply sit and stare at the wondrous phenomenon in front of them.

The gloriosa lily’s petals and stamens possess interesting shape and coloration that draw pollinators in their home territories. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The aptly named gloriosa, or fire, lily (Gloriosa superba)— both glorious and fire-like—blooms throughout the summer. It is a stunner in our demonstration garden here at the Extension office.  All the prior plants I have discussed on this blog are natives, but I have such a soft spot for this nonnative (but Florida-friendly!) that I made an exception. It is a native of southern Africa and tropical Asia but lives as a perennial throughout most of Florida. The plant is not technically a lily, but a member of the crocus family, and it has spreading vinelike tendrils. In north Florida, there have been no concerns with invasive potential, but in more tropical temperatures of south Florida, experts recommend it stay planted in a pot to prevent uncontrolled spread. This has occurred in coastal areas in Australia, with the vine outcompeting native species.

The firelike colors serve as a warning to consumers–don’t eat me! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Another important note when growing or observing the fire lily is its poisonous properties. Like many animals in nature, bright fiery red coloration is a warning sign to stay away. Lionfish, coral snakes, fire ants, multicolored poisonous frogs, and even orange monarch butterflies warn would-be predators of their poison content by displaying their brilliant colors. The same is true for the fire/gloriosa lily. If ingested, all parts of the plant—leaves, petals, and particularly the tuberous roots—are poisonous to people and animals due to a high concentration of a toxin called colchicine. The plants are not dangerous to the touch but can be fatal if ingested in a large enough dose. Small, measured doses have historically been used medicinally as a treatment for gout.

Gloriosa lilies are incredibly beautiful additions to the Florida garden—but take special precautions when planning your landscape to protect the environment, young children, and pets!