Flora and Fauna

GLORY LILY – FLAMING OVER GRASSLANDS IN ITS NATURAL GLORY

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Manjunath Nayak

Scrambling over its neighbours with its tiny tendrils   but in its flaming glory, it has distinctive flowers like the Turk’s Cap Lily. The “Glory Lily” is a sight to behold as it comes in different hues ranging from yellowish-green to deep red. Widely found in the World Biodiversity Hotspot of Western Ghats, its density is now rapidly going down as it is being rapidly uprooted for the production of local herbal medicines.

However, recently the Glory Lily was sighted on the hillocks of Gajendragada in Gadag district of Karnataka, India. Some 20-25 plants were found distributed on the grassy hillocks which is just 8 kilometres from the ancient Kalakaleswara Temple.  Gajendragada is a historical place which was once ruled by the family of Ghorpades. The hillocks are also a repository for many endangered medicinal plants.

Glory Lily is a rare medicinal climber and was observed in its natural habitat at Gajendragada. The flower is so beautiful that one feels like gazing at it to no end. Its immature flowers have yellow colour on top of the petals and red at the lower portion of the petals. However, it is the mature flowers with its unusual shape which turn deep red and makes it visible even at a distance.

COILING AROUND OTHERS

The perennial climber grows to a height of about four meters while its leaf tips which bear tendrils coils around a neighbouring or a surrounding plant for support. Glory Lily can be naturally grown by seed dispersal or old aged rhizomes. However, it is the bees and birds which are responsible for the natural spread of the plant.

Flourishing in woodlands, grasslands and Savannas and even sand dunes, the Glory Lily presents a unique sight with its changing colours and unusual shape. In 1947, when Queen Elizabeth-II visited southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), she was presented a diamond brooch in the shape of the Flame Lily.


THE RICH ALKALOID

Further, Gloriosa superba is a medicinal climber wherein its seeds and tubers containing valuable alkaloids like colchicine and colchicoside are used to treat gout and rheumatism. In the Indian systems of medicine, the tubers are used as tonic, anti-periodic, antihelminthic and also for treating snake bites. All parts of the plant especially the roots and the seeds are poisonous as they contain toxic alkaloids.

Many times, the flower has such lethal doses of colchicine that it has been used as a means of committing suicide or murder. So, animals naturally avoid eating this plant. As per folk tradition, it has been used for alleviating pain during childbirth in India. Tamilnadu state holds monopoly in production of glory lily with an annual production of about 600 tons of seeds in an area of about 6000 acres. It has also been declared as the state flower of Tamil Nadu.

GROWING NATURALLY

Glory Lily, belonging to family Liliaceae, is also known as Creeping lily or Flame lily or Tiger Claw. In local language, it is called as Lingli, Kalikari, Ailni, Shivaraktaballi, Vyaghranakha, etc. The flower is naturally attracted by Honey bees, Butterflies, Sunbirds and Bats which are responsible for pollinating the flowers across various habitats.

Gloriosa superba Root

Apart from Africa, it is found growing naturally in many countries of tropical Asia including Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Myanmar. In India, it is usually found in Himalayan foothills, Central parts, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and W Bengal.

DECREASING DENSITY

Now what are the reasons for the decreasing density of this unique climber? Habitat loss, over harvesting and drastic temperature fluctuation are some of the reasons. Added to this, natural calamities as also climatic changes are having a negative effect on the flowering cycle of the plant.

According to the International Society of Horticultural Science, the widespread use of its tubers only for medicinal purposes has led to its threatened state and it has been placed on the negative list of exports by the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India.  Symbolizing rebirth and motherhood in Greek mythology, the flower has been associated with the story of Hera and Zeus. In India, the flower is associated with the Gowri-Ganesh Festival since ancient times as it bestows auspiciousness.

(The author is a scientist and academician)