Beautiful – but keep under control!

By Beatrice Hawkins

At the moment I have some beautiful flowers on my gloriosa lily vine. Now, before any of you get upset with me, I do grow this spectacular plant in a pot and I am very diligent in removing all the flowers before they fruit as I am aware of its dangers and noxious status. It is not hard to remove the flowers as they are a beautiful and long lasting (up to 2 weeks) cut flower. They are highly prized for floristry work and among the most expensive flowers in some countries.

At the time I was given the tubers for this lily I knew nothing at all about it except that I was told “it’s a climber with pretty flowers”, and to “plant it in a pot, not in the ground”. As I looked it up I realised what good advice this was. It should definitely not be put in the ground as it will quickly become very invasive to the exclusion of all other plants. It likes an open sunny spot in free-draining soil, and the tubers multiply quickly and tend to bury themselves deeper each season making them extremely hard to find and remove. It also spreads by the many seeds that set in the fruit. It has become a real problem in some coastal dune areas of NSW from Hat Head north into southern Queensland. If it has nothing to climb on it will run over the ground and form large dense mounds of intertwining foliage.

Also, every part of the plant is poisonous to all animals and humans and especially it seems to our native animals. It is native to the tropical African countries and it is the floral emblem of Zimbabwe. In 1947, while still Princess Elizabeth and on a tour of that country, the Queen was presented with a diamond brooch in the shape of this lily. In African countries extracts in low doses have numerous traditional medicine uses. It is used to treat everything from malaria to head lice and as the poison on arrow tips! Birds, however, must be immune as my information is that the plants can be spread by birds eating the fruit and distributing the seeds.

As I have said many times however, the definition of a weed is “a plant out of place” and this applies here also. Grown in a pot in our area and cared for diligently to prevent it spreading, it is a spectacular and interesting specimen. Just one of its interesting features is that instead of having tendrils from the stems as most climbing plants, e.g. grape vines, the tendrils are at the end of the leaves so it climbs by the leaves – interesting to see.

The common names for these beautiful flowers are many: flame lily, creeping lily, climbing lily, tiger claw and fire lily. The botanical name is “gloriosa superba rothschildiana” after Lionel Walter, the 2nd Baron Rothschild (1868-1937) who took a specimen to England about 1908 and entered it in a Horticultural competition. The common one I have is the typical red-edged with yellow, but I have seen that they are available, in America at least, in a number of colours from bright blue and yellow (spectacular in the photo) to plain yellow, pink, deep burgundy and white. Because of their noxious status I haven’t tried to source any of these variations of colour in Australia.

I also have two frangipani in pots that are doing surprisingly well. This morning my white one has flowered and the perfume is beautiful. The other one, I was reliably informed when I bought it, is a deep pink. As yet it hasn’t bloomed so I am still waiting to see if my investment will pay off! Fortunately it was not a large investment and, as some would say I am a fairly patient soul, because I doubt it will flower this year. It is however, growing nicely and surviving the dry with a little water from my shower.

Another pleasant surprise this week has been that my potted arum lilies have flowered. One with decorative spotted leaves, has produced lovely bright yellow flowers and the other plant has white flowers blushed with pink. I have long admired the “Green Goddess” arum and would like to add that to my line-up in pots this year. It is many years now since I first saw it in a garden competition in Manilla NSW and have coveted it ever since!

I bought myself a “Bee House” for the garden the other day. I have put it near my lavender in the hope that some native bees may read the “welcome” sign and take up residence! It is a cute and interesting addition that causes visitors to comment and certainly entertains children. I think I probably need to attach it to a stake and make it a more permanent fixture.

In this dry time and with water at such a premium, it is easy to neglect the birds and insects that come to our gardens. Don’t forget to fill your birdbaths or put some dishes of water out for our feathered friends and insects. Any bees in your area will thank you.

Remember, Einstein is reported to have said that without bees on the planet mankind would only survive for four years. Given Einstein’s superior intellect, I’ll accept that as fact and try and keep the bees alive!

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