The gloriosa lily is not a true lily, but it has lily-like flowers and this is how it got its common name. This plant belongs to the same family as autumn crocuses, Colchicaceae, but it does not look like a crocus either—it is a slender, tall vine that grows up to eight feet tall.
In the spring, the gloriosa lily sends out tall stems from its thick, tuberous roots. The stems grow quickly and from mid-summer to fall develop flowers that can be nodding or opening upwards. After the bloom, the stems die back.
Two words of caution about this plant. Firstly, the tubers spread vigorously and in Australia and several Pacific islands, gloriosa lily is classified as invasive. While it has not been classified as invasive by any US state, it has escaped cultivation in several areas. Due to its highly invasive potential, it is recommended to grow gloriosa lily in pots only.
Also, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and pets.
|Botanical Name||Gloriosa superba|
|Common Name||Gloriosa lily, glory lily, fire lily, flame lily, climbing lily, creeping lily, cat’s claw, tiger’s claw|
|Mature Size||Six to eight feet height, one to three feet width|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, loamy|
|Soil pH||5.8 to 6.5|
|Bloom Time||Mid-summer to fall|
|Flower Color||Red, orange, yellow, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||8-12, USA|
|Native Area||Tropical and sub-Saharan Africa, Indian subcontinent, southern China and southeast tropical Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
Gloriosa Lily Care
As a native of subtropical and tropical areas in Africa and Asia, Gloriosa lily is not frost-resistant and can only be grown as a perennial in a warm climate. In a cool climate zone, you can still grow it as a summer annual. Just dig the tubers out in the fall before the first frost and overwinter them indoors, then replant them in the spring.
When the stalks start growing in the spring, have the support in place, such as a light wire trellis, so the leaf tendrils have something to latch onto.
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.
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
Gloriosa lily grows in elevations up to 2,000 feet, where the daytime temperature is moderate, around 70 degrees, and nights are cool, around 60 degrees F. It does not do well in hot, arid climates.
In high humidity, on the other hand, gloriosa lily is in its element—think monsoon season in 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.
Propagating Gloriosa Lily
Gloriosa lily is grown from tubers, which remain dormant during the winter. Store the tubers in a dry, cool, frost-free location until you are ready to plant in the spring when the danger of frost is past. The growth will be slow at first and pick up as the weather gets warmer.
Gloriosa lily can be divided every three years at the maximum.
Is the Gloriosa Lily Toxic?
All parts of gloriosa lily contain high levels of the toxic alkaloid called colchicine, with the highest concentration in the tubers. Ingesting any part of the plant can be fatal to humans and animals, and skin contact with the plant, especially the tubers, can cause rashes. As a precaution, when handling the plant make sure to wear gloves.
Varieties of Gloriosa Lily
There are several cultivars of gloriosa lily with different colored flowers ranging from yellow to golden, orange, red or pink. One of the most popular cultivars is ‘Rothschildiana’ with bright red flowers and yellow margins.
Growing Gloriosa Lily in Containers
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 (and because of their toxicity, handling them requires special precautions).
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.
Gloriosa lily can be affected by aphids, anthracnose, the cucumber mosaic virus and other viruses, as well as root rot.
Leaves that turn dry and pale are not a disease but a sign of too much sun exposure.