Despite the name, gloriosa lily is not a member of the Lilium family at all, but rather a tuberous-rooted, perennial climber that belongs to the same Colcicaceae family as the autumn crocuses. In the spring, the gloriosa lily sends out tall stems from its thick, tuberous roots. The stems grow quickly producing leaves with tendrils that allow it climb up a trellis or other support. From mid-summer to fall, the plant develops large flowers that can be nodding or opening upwards. After the bloom, the stems die back.
Gloriosa lily is generally planted in the spring from purchased or divided tubers. Gloriosa is grown as a perennial plant in warmer zones, but in colder regions, you can either grow it as an annual or dig up the tubers and stored them for the winter tor replant in the spring. It is fast-growing plant that will reach full height and blooming maturity within a couple of months.
Like all plants in the Colcicaceae family, gloriosa lily contains the highly toxic alkaloid colchicine in all plant parts, but especially in the tubers. Consumption can be fatal to humans and animals.
|Common Name||Gloriosa lily, climbing lily, fire lily, flame lily, glory lily|
|Botaical Name||Gloriosa superba|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6-8 ft. tall, 1-3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Sandy, loamy|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Red, orange, yellow, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||8–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Africa, Asia|
|Toxicity||Highly toxic to humans and animals|
Gloriosa Lily Care
Gloriosa lily tubers should be planted in full sun a soil that is rich and well drained. Position the tubers horizontally, about 2 to 4 inches deep. (Planting deeper will produce shorter vines and more erect plants.) Provide a wire trellis for the plant to climb. Keep the plants evenly moist during the growing season. Fertilizing will prompt larger flowers as well as more vegetative growth.
In cold-winter regions, gloriosa lily can grown as an annual, Or, it is often planted in containers that can be buried up to the ground for the growing season, then dug up and stored in a protected area for the winter. Or, the tubers can be carefully dug up at the end of the growing season, stored for winter, then replanted in the spring.
Since the tubers of this plant spread vigorously, in Australia and several Pacific islands gloriosa lily is classified as invasive. While it has not been yet classified as invasive by any U.S. state, it has escaped cultivation in several areas where the plant is hardy. Due to this invasive potential, you may want to grow it only in containers.
Gloriosa lily grows in full sun to partial shade. Especially in hot, dry climates, it does better with some protection from the hot afternoon sun, such as dappled shade from nearby taller plants. Shadier conditions may reduce flowering.
The soil should be rich and provide excellent drainage. Sandy or loamy types will work best. To enrich the soil, amend it with organic matter. Gloriosa lily grows well in neutral to slightly acidic soil.
Gloriosa lily needs even moisture during the growing season from spring to fall. In the absence of rain, water it regularly while making sure there is good drainage, so the plant never sits in soggy, wet soil.
Temperature and Humidity
In its native environment, gloriosa lily grows at elevations up to 2,000 feet, where the daytime temperature is moderate, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and nights are cool, around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As a garden plant, it will do best in similar circumstances. Gloriosa lily does not do well in hot, arid climates. In high humidity, on the other hand, gloriosa lily is in its element—think of the monsoon seasons common to its native habitat.
Fertilize gloriosa lily about once a month with a diluted complete fertilizer during the growing season, less frequently when the soil is very rich. Too much fertilizer will not necessarily lead to a better bloom and can instead encourage the growth of foliage at the expense of flowers.
Types of Gloriosa Lily
The species form of gloriosa lily has flowers with bright red petals edged with equally bright yellow. There are also several named cultivars of gloriosa lily offering flower variations. Some popular ones include:
- ‘Citrina’: This variety has yellow tepals with maroon stripes.
- ‘Grandiflora’: This cultivar is known for its large golden yellow flowers.
- ‘Lutea’: This type has flowers of solid yellow without a trace of red.
- ‘Rothschildiana’: This very popular cultivar has wavy-edged flowers with bright red petals showing yellow at the base.
- 'Greenii': This is an unusual cultivar with creamy green flowers.
- ‘Simplex’ : This variety has deep orange and yellow blossoms.
- 'Himalayan Select': This striking type has ruffled flowers of rosy red and yellow-green.
No pruning is necessary for the health of this plant, but when the stems die back after the flowering period is over, you can cut them back to ground level. But leave the foliage and stems in place as long as they remain green, as the plant is replenishing its tubers during this time.
Propagating Gloriosa Lily
Gloriosa lily is grown from tuberous roots, which remain dormant during the winter. These tubers can be lifted and divided to propagate new plants. Such division should done no more than every three years or so. Here's how to do it.
- After the plant dies back in fall, carefully dig up the tubers using a trowel or shovel, taking care not to break them (they are quite brittle).
- Carefully wash away the soil, then use sharp pruners to separate the tuberous lobes at the point they join the common stem. (Wear gloves while handling tubers, as they can cause skin irritation.)
- Store the tubers in a cool, dry place for the winter, and plant them in suitable garden soil or individual containers in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Fat, healthy tubers may take some time before they sprout, but as weather warms they will accelerate their growth and will likely produce flowers in their first season.
How to Grow Gloriosa Lily From Seed
Gloriosa lily is normally propagated by dividing the tubers, as this is a fast method that also ensures the propagated plant will be identical to the parent. The plant can also be grown from seed, though this is a slower process that may require as much as three years before the seedlings develop tubers large enough to support flowering. Further, seed propagation will be "true" only if you used seeds from a species plant. Seeds collected from named cultivars may not come true, but will instead produce plants that look different than the parent plant.
If you want to try your hand at growing gloriosa lily from seed, start the seeds indoors in mid-winter. First, soak the seeds overnight in lukewarm water, then plant them in small pots filled with peat moss, no more than 1 inch deep. Water to moisten the potting mix, and place the pot in a clear plastic bag to hold in moisture. Keep the pot near a window until they sprout, then remove the plastic bag and continue growing, moistening the potting mix as needed. If they do germinate (this is not assured), within three months, the seedlings will develop into viable plants and can be transplanted outdoors. After two or three years, they should reach flowering maturity.
Potting and Repotting Gloriosa Lily
Growing gloriosa lily in containers is a good idea for several reasons. First, it’s the only way you can grow it in a cool climate with subzero winters. Second, you avoid the risk that it will spread uncontrolled and become invasive. And lastly, the tubers are very brittle and break easily so the less you are handling them the better.
Therefore, the best option is to plant the tubers in containers where you leave them year-round. In containers, they will need more frequent watering and a sunny patio is usually too hot for the plant. Alternatively, you can bury the containers in garden soil and dig them out again in the fall before the first frost.
Use a pot of any material, but make sure it has good drainage. Any commercial peat-based potting mix will suffice as a growing medium. Plant the tubers about 4 inches deep and provide climbing support for the leaf tendrils to cling to as it grows. Keep the soil consistently moist but not wet. Potted gloriosa will need more frequent feeding (twice a month) than garden plants.
It is possible to grow gloriosa lily as a potted indoor houseplant, but it needs a winter dormant period, so you will need to coax it into dormancy by tapering off the watering after the bloom period is done in late fall. Although the plant will appear dead, restoring water in the early spring and giving it plenty of sun will bring about the plant's resurrection.
In regions where the plant is hardy, simply cut back the stems and foliage once the plant begins to turn brown as winter approaches. Potted plants can be moved to a sheltered location for the winter, or indoors if you live in a region with freezing winters. Don't expect a potted plant to continue active growth indoors over the winter, as it requires a winter dormancy period.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
This plant is often completely trouble-free, but gloriosa lily can occasionally be affected by aphids, anthracnose, cucumber mosaic virus, and other viruses, as well as root rot if grown in soil that is too wet or dense. Aphids can be removed by spraying with water, or killed with horticultural oil. Anthracnose or viral diseases, signaled by spotted or distorted leaves, are usually fatal, requiring that you throw the plant away.
How to Get Gloriosa Lily to Bloom
Mature gloriosa lily plants will usually bloom robustly from mid-summer into fall, provided they are getting plenty of sun and monthly feeding with a diluted fertilizer. The most common reason for bloom failure is a lack of sun, but too little or too much fertilizer can also reduce blooming. Excessive fertilizer can cause the plant to put more energy into foliage growth at the expense of flowers.
Common Problems with Gloriosa Lily
Gloriosa lily is generally a trouble-free plant, but growers are sometimes puzzled and worried if the leaves turn dry and pale. This is not a symptom of disease or pest attack but is usually the result of too much sun exposure in a hot climate. This plant is a sun lover, but it also prefers fairly mild temperatures, and in regions with summer temps above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and warm nights, too much sun can cause the leaves to lose their color and dry out. In such regions, try to grow it in a spot that gets plenty of morning sun but is shaded during the warmer afternoon hours.
How is the plant best used in the landscape?
Gloriosa makes a good outdoor potted plant for a sunny patio or deck. In the garden, it makes an excellent short climber against a wire trellis.
How long does a gloriosa lily live?
Properly cared for, gloriosa lily can live for decades, though this requires that the tubers be lifted and divided every few years when the plant becomes too dense. Dividing the tubers also offers an opportunity to create new plants.
Are there other species in the Gloriosa genus to consider?
Yes. The genus has about 12 species, of which several are cultivated as garden plants. In addition to Gloriosa superba, you may find both G. carsonii and G. lutea sold as garden plants, all labeled as gloriosa lilies. All three species are grown and cared for in the same way.
Is this a dangerous plant?
Yes, it quite poisonous—at least if there's any chance a human or pet might nibble on parts of the plant. The alkaloids in this plant are so concentrated and toxic that it sometimes kills wildlife that is unfortunate enough to gnaw on the seed pods. The plant has even been used to commit suicide. While the danger lies mostly from oral consumption, it's still a good idea to wear gloves while handling it and to wash your hands afterward.