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Gloriosa superb

Botanical Name

Gloriosa superb


Gloriosa simplex Linn., Gloriosa abyssinica A. Rich, Gloriosa virescens Lindl., Gloriosa carsonii Baker, Gloriosa minor Rendle, Gloriosa baudii (N. Terracc.) Chiov.   [1]


Colchicaceae  [1]

Vernacular Names

Malaysia Akar songsang
Indonesia Kembang sungsang, Kembang jonggrang, Kembang kuku macan, Katongkat, Dongkel sungsang, Mondalika, Pacing tawa, Mandhalika
Thailand Duang-durng
India Langli, Methonni, Kalihari, Agnishikha
China Jia Lan, Huan pai he
Arabic Al bahir al hindiyah
African Mkalamu, Kamanja nouchawi (Swahili)
French Lis de Malabar, Lis grimpant, Lis glorieux
English Glory lily, Flame lily, Climbing Lily, Creeping lily
Portuguese Garras de tigre, Aranha de emposse   [1] [3] [7] [8] [9]


Gloriosa superba is a member of the Colchicaceae family. It is a climbing or erect herbaceous plant which can reach up to 4 m long. The stem is annual, glabrous and sparsely branched while the tuber is perennial, horizontal and sometime abruptly bent in  V or L shape. The roots are fibrous. Leaves in whorls of 3 or 4, opposite or alternate, simple and sessile. The leaf blade is ovate or lanceolate, 4 – 15 cm by 1.5 – 4 cm, with obtuse base and apex with or without tendrils measuring 1 – 2 cm long. The veins run parallel. Flowers are axillary, solitary, bisexual, regular, 6 in numbers. The diameter is 4.5 – 7 cm. It is showy, pendulous with pedicel 4 – 20 cm long. Perianth is segment free, lanceolate or oblanceolate, 5 – 7 cm x 1 cm often with undulate margins, strongly reflexed when matures, persistent, usually yellow and red, less often yellow, red and white. Stamens with filaments are 2 – 5 cm long, spreading. Anthers 7 – 10 mm long, opening by longitudinal slits. Ovary is superior, 3-celled; carpels coherent only by their inner margins; style filiform, 2 – 4 cm long, bent at a right angle basally. The fruit is locuilicidal, oblong capsule 4 – 6 cm x 1 – 2 cm containing up to 20 seeds. Seeds are ovoid, 4 -5 mm in diameter, surrounded by a fleshy, red sarcotesta. [1] [3] [4] [6]


Widespread over tropical Africa and Asia. [5]

Plant Use

The plant is a popular and attractive ornamental, sometimes planted to ward off snakes. Colchicine derived from the plant has been effectively used in the treatment of acute gout since 1763. It has many medicinal uses in different communities of the world. The roots are used to induce labour and abortion. It is considered a tonic and is also used to treat epistaxis, bruises, cancer, gonorrhoea, haemorrhoids, leprosy, impotence and syphilis. [2] [4] [5]

Toxic Parts

The root, leaf, stem, flower and seeds. They contain the toxic compound colchicine. [2]


Colchicine and gloriosine. The seed contains the highest amount of colchicines per unit weight. The tuber contains 0.3% colchicine and a lesser amount of gloriosine. The lethal dose is 4 g of tuber. Colchicine is excreted in milk, and poisoning in humans has been reported from consuming milk derived from colchicine-poisoned livestock. As it is slowly eliminated by the body, poisoning can occur from chronic intake of subtoxic levels of the poison. Colchicine is able to withstand drying, storage and boiling, making the cooked tubers and dried seed remaining toxic. Other toxic compounds include lumicolchicine found in the flowers and superbine. [2]

Risk Management

It is best not to plant this plant for whatever purpose as the whole plant is considered toxic and reports of death from its poisoning has been documented.

Clinical Findings

Initial symptoms include tingling, burning and subsequent numbness of the lips, mouth and throat which may appear immediately or delayed for as long as 48 hours. Dysphagia and feeling of strangulation may be present. They may be feelings of intense thirst and sometime violent vomiting followed by abdominal pain and diarrhoea which can be severe and bloody to the extent of causing dehydration.

Delayed symptoms, appearing several days after, include numbness and weakness of extremeties, photophobia, low blood pressure and weak rapid pulse, oliguria to anuria, gradual ascending paralysis with loss of deep tendon reflexes. This will eventually lead to death due to respiratory failure. Temperature control becomes erratic leading to subnormal temperatures 20 to 4 hours before death. There can also be convulsions leading to coma, or shock due to fluid volume depletion. Bone marrow depression occurs within 4 – 5 days, this is followed by hair loss occurring within 12 days. All these are reversible after a month in survivors. [2]


Intoxication has been known to be prolonged due to the slow absorption of colchicines. Aggressive symptomatic and supportive care is critical and should continue even when symptoms have subsided. Death has been known to occur during asymptomatic period.

1.     There is no specific antidote for colchicine but tannic acid had been found to have the ability to precipitate it and prevent further absorption in the intestinal tract.

2.     Induction of vomiting or gastric lavage need to be done to remove residual plant materials for the gastrointestinal tract.

3.     Fluid and electrolyte replacement therapy together with monitoring of blood pressure, respiratory and kidney functions are essential.

4.     Respiratory assistance may be needed in case of muscular paralysis.

5.     Meperidine alone or in combination with atropine can help control diarrhoea and abdominal pain accompanying the poisoning.


1.     Schmelzer G.H., PROTA Volume 11(1)  – Medicinal Plants, PROTA Foundation, Wageningen, 2008, pg. 309 – 314

2.     Neils DW., Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Cariddean, Pineapple Press, Sarasota 1997 pg. 207 – 209

3.     Chauhan NS., Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Hamichal Pradesh, Indus Publishing, New Delhi 1999, pg. 212

4.     Nelson LS., Shih RD., Balick M., handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, The New York Botanical Gardens, New York 2007 pg. 171

5.     Hanelt P., Mansfeld’s Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops., Springer, Berlin, 2001 pg. 2285

6.     Flora of China ( Accessed date 11th October 2012.

7.     McFarland G., Thai-English Dictionary, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1944 pg. 321

8.     Stevens AM., Kamus Lengkap Indonesia Inggris PT Mizan Publika, Bandung 2004, pg. 475

9.     Hembing W., Ensiklopedia Milenium: Bunga-bungaan PT. Prestasi Insan Indonesia, Jakarta 2000 pg. 101

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