Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

gloriosa superba

Gloriosa Superba : Flame Lily / Gloriosa Lily

What an incredible exotic bloom, for the second season in a row the Gloriosa has prevailed and provided a real showstopping performance. Potted in a slightly peaty mix, once moistened the Gloriosa lily’s thirst is easily satisfied. After the foliage dies down in the autumn I overwinter it in a frost free, relatively dry location. It can tolerate some moisture at this point but it is essential it doesn’t sit in the cold and the wet. It’s dormancy is longer than you might expect but once it pops up, it grows quickly. This year mine sprouted sometime in June and had flowers opening at the start of August. From there a succession of flowers, unfurling in the strangest way. The buds transform from green to red and as they age their colors intensify. If your in luck a pod will form and reward you a treasure of brightly colored seeds. Gloriosa superba is native to Africa and Asia and charms whoever crosses it’s path. Thoughts & Notes: The plant should be considered quite poisonous and caution should be taken when handling it’s fruits / leaves and/or tubers. DO NOT EAT! Propagate from seed or by dividing the tubers. Seeds have a dormancy that has been known to take a while (I’m still waiting).  Tubers are delicate, be careful. The freshly sprouted shoots in the spring are a delicacy to slugs and should be placed somewhere out of their reach. I lost two out of 3 potted specimens, the tubers didn’t recover from the grazing. Once shoots appear in early summer, provide a trellis, they need support. Most of all. Enjoy the show!

It must have been mid May, or early June but when I first saw Gloriosa superba in bloom I was stunned. While visiting Gardenworks on a delivery the mental seed was planted and within the week a gloriosa vine was in my possession. While the price tag was a bit larger then I’d like to admit, the specimen was incredible and it’s short visit was well appreciated. Bursting forth in early spring gloriosa is best grown in a greenhouse up north, by May and June it should be in full bloom and afterwords it dies to the ground. In climates warmer then Victoria, namely it’s homeland Africa/South Asia, Gloriosa vines are said to flower all year round. Here in Victoria it only gave one loud hurrah, still it’s a worthy plant for any tropical flower junkie.

Gloriosa vines prefer rich well draining soil and like full sun. Keep them consistently wet but not soaking, I have heard that a regular cause of gloriosa disaster is overwatering. While much of my garden was needing a drink daily, my gloriosa in an 10″ pot needed it only 1/3 of the time. To be safe, let it dry between waterings, it’s not a very thirsty plant. After blooming the vines will die and can be cut down to the ground, slowly decrease watering, and put your gloriosa pot aside for the season. If you were lucky one of your gloriosa will produce a seed pod, at which point it is safe to leave it on the vine until it matures late in the season. I just cut mine down today to harvest the orange corn like seeds.

Gloriosa aren’t reliably hardy in wet cold climates and should be dug up and stored for the winter. Store in dry peat for the winter, or bring in  the whole pot and keep it in a warm dry spot. In spring pot up and gradually increase watering until you see some action. Be very careful of digging up your gloriosa tubers as they are A) poisonous and B) extremely fragile. Washing your hands after touching them and/or wearing gloves might be an idea. Late in the season Gloriosa roots are shallow at best and the safest way of removing them from the pot is by hand. Slowly digging your hands into the soil will have the best results for not breaking these strange V shaped tubers. If you’d like to double your stock feel free to break the V’s in two as long as you can see an active growing point (eye on the tuber). Dusting with sulfer (fungicide) will also increase your success.

Gloriosa seeds

Gloriosa are supposed to be quite easy to grow from seed, a 50/50 mix of peat and compost is recommended for best results. Soak seeds for 24 hours prior to sowing and place in a warm spot, planted seeds would benefit from being placed on a heating mat. Once seedlings are of a good size, move them out to their own pots. I have read that it can take up to three seasons to get a good flowering sized tuber. I will update you on my success.

In other plant related news, I have been busy all week moving plants indoors. The majority of the cacti have been brought in, a load or two to the greenhouse, and now the majority that are left are giants. Damn you Echium pinniana for being so large and grandiose, and also damn you for promising flowers on the second year but waiting til the third. Lastly damn you for being so cold sensative, and damn you for being so good looking.  I have 20 days tops to find you a warm home, I need a truck! Loree @ Danger Garden, I feel your pain.

Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.