Gloriosa superba

25 Jun

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Here’s my newest new thing. It was bought as a tuber from the London Spring Plant Fair. Never having seen one in real life, i’m well pleased to have my own example living it up in the greenhouse. Despite the bloom looking like a lily, it isn’t. It’s a climber native to the tropics and is a noxious weed in some warm countries, which in my experience makes it an ideal summer annual in this country. I’ve lusted after those showy blooms for a few years now, with their reflexed petals with wavy margins. I like a wavy margin, me. Cultivation has been simple, I just laid the long, brittle and intensely poisonous tuber in a large pot in the conservatory and moved it into the greenhouse shortly after the new growth broke the surface of the compost. This is another appeal: besides being glorious and superb (whoever named it was seriously impressed, obviously) it is lethally toxic, containing copious amounts of something called colchicine, which apparently causes one’s hair to fall out and various parts of the body to break down in ways too disgusting to detail, followed by rapidly ascending paralysis of the nervous system, and death. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t chosen to grow it just because it is deadly. I don’t have living arsenals of colchicine, ricin, scopolamine and oleandrin just for the sake of it. Its toxicity would be by the by if it weren’t for its peerless, flaunting beauty. No, it’s the combination of beautiful and deadly that hooks me hopelessly in.

As for garden use, gloriosa superba doesn’t really have one, for me. The colours don’t fit in especially well with any scheme of mine, I haven’t a sunny spot by a door to use to show it off, and in any case I wouldn’t want it where my children can easily access it. It’s here only as a greenhouse specimen.

Oh, the never-ending pleasure of tending living things which have no right, according either to good taste, safety or the simple facts of our cold climate, to be alive here in northern England.

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One Response to “Gloriosa superba”

  1. Peter/Outlaw June 25, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    Such a beautiful flower! I’ve only seen a live one once. Colchicine is a wonderful poison which is used in small doses to treat gout.

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