The national emblem of Zimbabwe

Andrew Mangwarara —
OUR country’s vegetation deserves a special place in the world of flora – with the likes of flame lily few can dispute that fact.

Gloriosa superba is the national emblem of Zimbabwe. A befitting title to no other. A bulbous plant of the colchicaceae plant family. Given the name kajongwe in chiShona and amakukhulume in isiNdebele. It is native to tropical Africa, Asia and the Indian Ocean islands, whilst being common in all parts of the country.

The name gloriosa means handsome or full of glory whilst superba (superb) signifies the undeniable attractive red and yellow flowers that appear from November to March. In English it has many names such as glory lily, climbing lily or creeping lily.

It must be noted here that the national flower is a protected plant and any illegal harvesting is prohibited. Also remember that all parts of gloriosa superba are extremely poisonous (contains a substance called colchicine), so due precaution must be exercised when handling this plant as even touching can result in skin irritation. The flame lily has a striking climbing habit being able to reach heights of three metres and it thrives in part shade position of forests.

Being a bulbous plant it can easily be introduced by means of its delicate bulbs, which easily rot if overwatered. So when the blooms start withering turning yellow then withhold water as well.

The flame lily can also be propagated using its seed, which can be sown from September to October. Its seed can take up to four months before germinating so all the gardeners patience is needed here. Sow the seedlings out in the garden in a good soil as soon as possible.

Though it is poisonous the glory lily has a number of medicinal uses to its name. Traditionally it has been used to treat kidney problems, arthritis, colic, cholera, snake bite antidote, ulcers and painful gout.

In other communities it is used to solve impotence problems, skin ailments and intestinal worms. However, research has proved that all parts of the plant are toxic and ingestion can be fatal.

On the conservation status of this plant it is still in a good state according to the IUCN red data list. The leaf blade has strong, parallel nerves and ends in a tendril like spiral.

The single flowers are four to seven centimetres in diameter and the flower stalk can be as long as 20cm. Butterflies and sunbirds are the ones which are presumed to help with pollination, leading to six centimetre long fruit capsule.

In scientific circles the derivative colchicine is used in experiments in the study of cell division for the inhibition of mitosis and has been used in the treatment of cancer.

The flower has a limited vase life of about five days and its morphology stops it being a commercial cut flower, but it can be a viable option for local production where short distances are the norm. It is a common sight on the road sides where it is sold as long as it is available during the rainy season.

Though not a fussy garden plant it can be left to its own vices if the soil is fertile enough. Plant the tubers about 5cm deep, and about 15cm apart. Add compost and fertiliser the general quantities. For healthier blooms you can feed a diluted organic mix every two weeks. Cut back the plant once the blooms have gone. Happy gardening this December!
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