What Is The Lily That Climbs, And Where Does It Grow?

For years, there was widespread use of Gloriosa rothschildiana in the florist trade. It was popular for corsage and bowl arrangements. It brought the arresting beauty of these exotic, tropical, African bulb-vine flowers to the attention of many thousands of American flower lovers. Many who might never have seen them outside of Florida and choice greenhouse collections in the North.

There was a time, several Florida growers supplied Gloriosa flowers to the northern florist trade, the blooms being shipped by air express to leading cities in the East and Midwest.

Climbing Gloriosa LilyPin

They were also a major adornment of flower gardens around the subtropical Gulf Coast, especially in central Florida.

They were introduced from England around 1910 by the late Dr. Henry Nehrling, a pioneer Florida plantsman.

Gloriosa Rothschildiana

The flower of Gloriosa rothschildiana is not unlike a slender and symmetrical tiger lily, with recurred segments brilliantly patterned in scarlet and yellow, the whole flower gradually deepening in color to crimson as it matures.

Gloriosa rothschildiana tubers can be handled like gladiolus in culture: planted, grown to the blooming stage, ripened off, and dug two or three times a year in warm climates.

As the vines are tropical and tender to frost, this procedure cannot be used in the North except in the greenhouse. 

However, more and more northern gardeners are growing Gloriosa outdoors in the Summer by planting the tubers in the late Spring when the ground is warm and digging them before severe cold weather arrives in the Fall.

The Gloriosa tribe includes several other species, of which only Gloriosa superba, Gloriosa plant (Gloriosa virescens, Gloriosa simplex), and Gloriosa carsonii are grown in the United States at this time.

Gloriosa superba (and its variety idea) is fairly common in Florida gardens.

It is a graceful climbing tuberous-rooted vine with slender leaves, growing 6’ or 8’ feet tall at maturity.

Characteristics Of Gloriosa 

Characteristic of all Gloriosa species are the curling tendrils at the tips of the leaves by which the plant takes support in climbing up a string, wire, or trellis.

In the wild, this fastening method enables it to clamber through brush and undergrowth to the light.

When firmly fastened to an object by these tendrils, the plant is anchored as firmly as if tied with string.

The leaf will tear before the tendril lets go. The sideways projection of the style is another peculiarity of the genus.

The tubers of most Gloriosa species are distinct, being most closely related to the nearby genera, Lithonia and Sandersonia, both of South African origin Gloriosas are of African origin, too.

Although Gloriosa Superba is also recorded from southern Asia and is common in India from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas.

In the case of Gloriosa rothschildiana, Gloriosa Superba, and Gloriosa carsonii, the tubers are U or V-shaped, plump and brown at full growth.

They are fragile and must be handled carefully to protect the bud-eyes on the tips of the tubers.

The tubers of the Gloriosa plant are generally called in America, although the older authors class it as a synonym of Gloriosa simplex of Linnaeus and Gloriosa virescens of Lindley, which are still more strange.

They are usually of pencil thickness or slightly larger and wander through the soil aimlessly, curling like a snake and extending up to two feet in length.

They are difficult to dig without damage to the tuber. In commercial practice, only one arm of the Gloriosa tuber is sold, and the grower retains the other for planting stock.

Ideal Growing Locations

It can be grown in the Northern garden in Summer under gladiolus culture with excellent results.

Gloriosa plants can be handled in the same way. However, it and Gloriosa Superba have a longer growing season and are not recommended for outside planting in the North without further experimentation along these lines.

Gloriosa bulbs want fertile, well-drained, sandy, loam soil and do well in lighter types if fortified with a little commercial fertilizer before planting.

They do not require manures or compost as these may injure them, causing scab or bulb rot.

The tubers should be kept moderately cool and dry in storage, preferably covered with peat, vermiculite, or other warm, insulating material.

If stored in cold, damp conditions, they will lose vitality and may rot entirely.

Gloriosa Superba 

It was introduced into England from Holland before 1700 by Lord Portland. It was known to Linnaeus and described by him under that name in his Species Plantarum of 1753.

Linnaeus also described a second species, with blue flowers and no tendrils on the leaves, under the name Gloriosa simplex (because of the lack of tendrils).

This species was never seen by Linnaeus personally but was described from the “Gloriosa coerulea” description in Miller’s Dictionary, 8th edition.

Reference to Miller’s Dictionary reveals that the plant was not seen by him in bloom, either, but was growing in a greenhouse in England at that time as a climbing plant from Senegal, believed to be a Gloriosa with blue flowers. 

The seed had been obtained from the gardener to the King of France.

No trace of the mystery’s outcome can be found in the literature. Certainly, all Gloriosa as known today have definite tendrils in the mature foliage.

No Gloriosa is known from Senegal, or anywhere else with blue flowers, so it is possible that upon further study, Linnaeus’ Gloriosa simplex may be an invalid species.

Gloriosa Virescens

It was first described in 1825 as a “greenish-flowered” Gloriosa from Mozambique.

The original illustration in the Botanical Magazine shows the foliage with strong leaf tendrils and a flower very similar, if not identical, to the Gloriosa plant grown in America and Europe today.

The name Gloriosa plant came a few years later and was based on a plant sent to England in 1851 from Natal by a Mr. R. W. Plant. It is usually classed as a variety of G. virescens.

The flower of the Gloriosa plant is smaller than that of Gloriosa rothschildiana but of similar shape, having broad petals only slightly waved or crisped.

The crisping is most notable in Gloriosa Superba. The plant’s coloring is yellow and orange, and the flower is paler in shady places or under glass. 

It is sometimes entirely yellow when first opened but deepens in color in a few days. 

here is a yellow variety of Gloriosa Superba, which opens clear creamy yellow in tone and deepens to tawny red as the flower ripens.

This variety is found occasionally in Gloriosa Superba plantings in Florida, and the effort is being made to separate a selected strain. It is a handsome thing at its heart.

Gloriosa Carsonii

It is a modern species first described in 1895 by J. G. Baker from East Central Africa.

It has slender leaves and an elegant, tall, free-flowering habit like Gloriosa Superba, the blooms less crisped and clear red and yellow.

It is an attractive species, not showy and spectacular like Gloriosa rothschildiana, but graceful and appealing.

It first bloomed in Florida during the past season (1949) on plants grown, by Ralph Seymour Cammack of Maitland and the writer, from bulbs obtained in England and Holland.

Gloriosa carsonii makes large tubers, but not as large as Gloriosa rothschildiana, which may produce them as thick as one’s wrist and as long as the forearm under optimum conditions.

Gloriosa Plantii

Gloriosa Plantii, grown in America, is a branching semi-dwarf type, 2’ to 3’ feet tall, with handsome wide, glossy, bright green leaves and abundant, recurved orange-red and yellow flowers, exactly like the illustrations of O. virescens in the old English garden papers.

It seeds readily and may be the source of interesting hybrid types if present experiments prove successful.

One grower has already reported success in hybridizing Gloriosas.

The main blooming season for Gloriosa species is the late Summer.

Gloriosa rothschildiana may bloom every month of the year in a frost-free climate, and commercial flower producers dig and plant the bulbs regularly throughout the year to have a steady sequence of flowers.

Greenhouse growth of Gloriosa rothschildiana in the North in Winter may ultimately prove satisfactory.

Recently Discovered Gloriosa Rothschildiana

It is the most recent discovery of all the species commonly grown and first described in 1903 in the Gardener’s Chronicle by James O’Brien. He sent the first tubers to Dr. Nehrling in Florida shortly afterward.

The plant had bloomed for the Hon. Walter Rothschild, M.P., at Tring Park, England, from tubers collected in Uganda by Maj. H. B. Rattray.

It was immediately recognized as the most handsome and brilliant species of the genus and created a sensation in Europe when shown.

Gloriosa Bulba Propagation

Gloriosa bulbs are propagated by parting the tubers at an angle in the Spring before planting and from seed. Gloriosa Superba, Gloriosa plantii, and Gloriosa carsoni seed well.

Gloriosa rothschildiana will seed fairly well under hand pollination. The seeds need a ripening period before planting and will give better germination after a year than when planted immediately.

All the Gloriosa may be grown in small tubs or large flat pots, or bulb pans, as they are called.

In small pots, the new tubers are likely to damage themselves by banging their noses against the sides of the pots; many times, this pressure is strong enough to destroy the growing points.

The vines may be tied to a string, wire, or bamboo stake while growing, or they may be permitted to clamber over an adjacent shrub or piece of brush.

Without support, they will topple when 2′ or 3′ feet tall and become unsightly.

44659 by Wyndham Hayward