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Rare Herb of Patalkot: Gloriosa superba

Patalkot is spread over an area of 79 Sq.Km. at an average height of 2750-3250 feet above Mean Sea Level. It is a treasure of forest and herbal wealth. There are 12 villages and 13 hamlets in this valley, with a total population of nearly 2000. Because of the inaccessibility of this area, the tribals of this region were totally cut off from the civilized world. Most of the people in Patalkot belong to 'Bharia' and 'Gond' tribes.

Location Profile:

Chhindwara district lies between latitude 21 deg 23' and 22 deg 49' North and longitude 78 deg 10' and 79 deg 24' East. Mostly, the dense forest covers most of the area of the district. Patalkot is a lovely landscape located at a depth of 1200-1500 feet in a valley near Tamia in the north of the district. Because of the great depth at which it is located, this place is christened as 'Patalkot' ("Patal' means very deep, in Sanskrit). Patalkot is spread over an area of 79 Sq.Km. at an average height of 2750-3250 feet above Mean Sea Level. It is a treasure of forest and herbal wealth. There are 12 villages and 13 hamlets in this valley, with a total population of nearly 2000. Because of the inaccessibility of this area, the tribals of this region were totally cut off from the civilized world. Most of the people in Patalkot belong to 'Bharia' and 'Gond' tribes. This valley is situated on the Satpura Plateau in the southern central part of the Madhya Pradesh, India.

During the survey which carried out from 1997 to 2004, Dr Acharya explored the area of Patalkot valley that included- Gaildubbha, Kareyam, Rathed, Ghatlinga, Gudichhathri, Karrapani, Tamia, Bharia Dhana, Bijauri, Pandu Piparia, Sajkui, Lahgadua, Karrapani, Sidhouli, Chhindi, Jaitpur, Chimtipur and Harra-ka-Char.

All the co-authors of this popular article were involved in gathering information from various resources like, Internet, University Libraries and oral information by traditional healers of their respective regions.

Why we select this plant?

Glory lily is among some of the modern medicine's most important plants actually facing local extinction (Dhushara, 2004). Gloriosa superba derives its name Gloriosa from the word "gloriosus', which means handsome and superba from the word "superb' means splendid or majestic kind. This plant has been a source of medicine right from the ancient time. So many books and articles have been written so far on the medicinal and other values of this plant. It is one of the most popular herb in all discussions, symposia and seminars etc. related to herbal conservation.

This glorious herb was found in abundance once upon a time in Patalkot valley. Now-a-days, this herb is becoming rare in this valley. It evokes us to write an article and make it an important issue so that, conservationists, botanists, entrepreneurs and NGOs come forward to rescue and save this plant in the valley.

Plant Profile:

Gloriosa superba L. Sp. Pl. 305. 1753; Wight, Ic. 6: 25. t. 2047. 1853; Hook. f. Fl. Brit. India 6: 358. 1892; Duthie, Fl. Gangetic Pl. 3: 262. 1920.

Family: Liliaceae

English Name: Climbing-lily, Creeping-lily, Flame-lily, Glory-lily, Gloriosa lily, Tiger claw

Sanskrit Names: Langli, Kalikari, Ailni, Agnisikha, Garbhaghatini, Agnimukhi

Local Names in India: Kalihari, Kathari, Kulhari, Languli (Hindi); Bishalanguli, Ulatchandal (Bengali); Dudhio, Vacchonag (Gujarati); Indai, Karianag, Khadyanag (Marathi); Karadi, Kanninagadde (Kannada); Adavi-nabhi, Kalappagadda, Ganjeri (Telugu); Mettoni, Kithonni (Malayalam); Kalappai-Kizhangu, Kannoru (Tamil); Ognisikha, Garbhhoghhatono, Panjangulia, Meheriaphulo (Oriya); Kariari, Mulim (Punjabi) (CSIR,1948-1976).

Common Names in World: Flame lily, Isimiselo, Vlamlelie, Riri vavai-moa

Taxonomic Description:

Erect, perennial, tuberous, scandent or climbing herbs; grasp with tendrils formed at the tip of the leaves. Stem leafy. Leaves sessile, spirally arranged or sub-opposite, 6-7 x 1.5-1.8 cm, lanceolate, acuminate, entire, glabrous; the upper ones with cirrhose tips. Flowers axillary, solitary, large, borne on long, spreading pedicels, actinomorphic, hermaphrodite; perianth segments 6, free, lanceolate, keeled within at base, long-persistent, yellow in lower half, red in upper half; stamens 6, spreading, hypogynous; anthers extrose, medifixed, versatile, opening by longitudinal slits; ovary superior, 3-celled; ovules numerous; style deflected at base, projecting from the flower more or less horizontally. Capsule 2-3 cm long, oblong. Seeds numerous, subglobose, black (Smith, 1979; Floridata, 2004) The fruit is oblong containing about 20 globose red colored seeds in each valve (Huxley, 1992; Neuwinger, 1994; Burkill, 1995). Fl. & Fr.: September-March.


The plant grows in sandy-loam soil in the mixed deciduous forests in sunny positions. It is very tolerant of nutrient-poor soils. It occurs in thickets, forest edges and boundaries of cultivated areas in warm countries up to a height of 2530 m. It is also widely grown as an ornamental plant in cool temperate countries under glass or in conservatories (Neuwinger, 1994; Inchem, 2004).


A native to tropical jungles of Africa, is now found growing naturally in many parts of Tropical Asia including India, Burma, Malaysia, Srilanka (Jayaweera, 1982). In temperate countries, G. superba is propagated as an ornamental in conservattoris, best suited to greenhouses (Neuwinger, 1994). In India, it is mainly found in Nasik, Ratnagiri, Savanthwadi (Maharastra); Uttara Kannada, Hassan, Chikmangalur, Coorg, Mysore (Karnataka); Cannanore, Palakkad, Trivandrum (Kerala); Tamil Nadu and Goa (CES, 2004). Today, it is under cultivation in fairly large areas of India but seen less in Patalkot valley of Central India.

Distribution in Patalkot: Gaildubba, Rathed, Harra-ka-Char, Chimtipur, Kareyam, Jaitpur, Bijouri, Chhindi and Sidhouli.

Medicinal importance:

The sap from the leaf tip is used for pimples and skin eruptions. Tribals of Patalkot apply the powder of rhizome with coconut oil in skin eruptions and related diseases for 5 days. This combination is said to be effective in snake and scorpion bites too. Tribals crush roots of the plant in water and apply on head for curing baldness. To avoid painful delivery, Gonds and Bharias of Patalkot, apply rhizome extract over the navel and vagina. It induces labour pain and performs normal delivery. Bhumkas (local healers) generally prescribe 250 to 500 mg of the rhizome as dosage. According to Bhumkas of Patalkot, this dose may lead to abortion if given to a lady with pregnancy of 1 or 2 months. Since the rhizome is having abortive action, this is prescribed for normal delivery. Duke (1985) has also reported the abortifacient action of the plant rhizome. In Gaildubba, juice of the leaves is given to kill the lice.

In traditional medicine system, tuber is used for the treatment of bruises and sprains (Rastogi & Mehrotra, 1993), colic, chronic ulcers, hemorrhoids, cancer, impotence (Nadkarni, 1978), nocturnal seminal emissions and leprosy. Many cultures believe the species to have various magical properties (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; Neuwinger, 1994; Burkill, 1995). The plump roots of the plant have been used in the treatment of parasitic skin infections, leprosy, and internal worms (Mutshinyalo, 2001; Dhushara, 2004).

In Ayurveda and Yunani systems of medicine, the tuber of plant is well known due to its pungent, bitter, acrid, heating, anthemintic, laxative, alexiteric and abortifacient nature. It is widely used in the treatment of ulcers, leprosy, piles, inflammations, abdominal pains, intestinal worms, thirst, bruises, infertility and skin problem (Kirtikar & Basu, 1935; THDC, 2002). However, ingestion of all parts of the plants is extremely poisonous and can be fatal (Senanayake & Karalliedde, 1986).

Other uses:

Gloriosa superba is also known as the national flower of Zimbabwe (Hamer, 2004). Except miscellaneous pharmaceutical product and other therapeutic preparations, it is also a popular plant for providing color in greenhouses and conservatories even immature flowers are beautiful to behold (Floridata, 2004). All parts of the plant, especially the tubers, are extremely poisonous. The tubers may be mistakenly eaten in place of Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batata) since the tubers resemble those of sweet potatoes. The juice of the leaves is used as an ingredient in arrow poisons. The flowers are used in religious ceremonies.

Chemical components:

Studies reveal that all parts of the plant, especially the tubers are extremely toxic due to the presence of a highly active alkaloid, Colchicine. The species also contains another toxic alkaloid, Gloriosine (Gooneratne, 1966; Angunawela & Fernando, 1971). Other compounds such as lumicolchicine, 3-demethyl-N-deformyl-N-deacetylcolchicine, 3-demethylcolchicine, N-formyldeacetylcolchicine have been isolated from the plant (Chulabhorn et al., 1998).

Toxic effect:

A pale yellow to greenish yellow alkaloid Colchicine is mainly responsible for the toxic effect. The toxins in G. superba have an inhibitory action on cellular division resulting in diarrhoea, depressant action on the bone marrow and alopecia. After ingestion of tubers, initial symptoms develop within two to six hours. Intense vomiting, numbness and tingling around the mouth, burning and rawness of the throat, nausea, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea leading to dehydration etc. are some of the primary symptoms developed initially in the victim. The other important complications include respiratory depression, shock, hypotension, marked leucopenia, thrombocytopenia, coagulation disorders, oliguria, haematuria, confusion, seizures, coma and ascending polyneuropathy. Alopecia and dermatitis are the late manifestations that develop about one to two weeks after poisoning (Inchem, 2004).

Clinical and toxicological observations were made by various workers time to time (Gooneratne, 1966; Dunuwille et al., 1968; Angunawela & Fernando, 1971; Murray et al., 1983; Kimberly, 1983; Saravanapavananthan, 1985; Craker & Simson, 1986; Wijesundere, 1986; Ellenhorn et al., 1996; Inchem, 2004).


There is a greater need of a "community-based' approach in conservation. Awareness among the local community is one the most important task. For this, various activities like poster presentation, campaigns, educational pamphlets and slogans can be applied. A society can be made in the villages that will look after the conservation of important medicinal and economical plants. Universities, Colleges, NGOs and other agencies should come forward and adopt a village of their respective region. These organizations can play a vital role in conservation of important medicinal plant. A medicinal plant garden/ herbal garden and green house can be made in the village itself. At one side there is need of Ex-situ and in-situ conservation, on the other hand, preservation of traditional Ethno-medicinal-botanic knowledge is highly needed. Local healers of targeted area should be encouraged and given support time to time.

Gloriosa superba is believed as most important herb that is exported, and collection of seeds and roots for the foreign market is causing a shortage of raw material for local drug industries in India. If endangered plants like G. superba are allowed to become damaged through excessive collection, a whole series of traditional medicines and plants which have been in use for thousands of years will be threatened. It is therefore need of the hour to come forward and rescue this important glorious herb of Patalkot. Active participation from everyone is highly needed specially people from Chhindwara district.

Acknowledgement: Author DA is grateful to Dr M K Rai, Head, Department of Biotechnology, Amaravati University, Amaravati, Maharastra for his guidance. Thanks are due to Dr SA Brown, Principal, Danielson College and Dr Sanjay Pawar, Govt P G College, Chhindwara, MP for constant support all throughout my Patalkot life. I am thankful to Dr Vipin Kumar, SRISTI- Ahmedabad, Gujarat for encouragement.


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About the Authors:

Dr Deepak Acharya: He is the Director of a herbal formulation company in Ahmedabad, India. He has been documenting ethnobotanical knowledge of tribals of Central and Western India. He has written 30 research papers in National and International journals of repute. He writes popular articles for web and magazines. Meet him on his homepage or contact via email on

Ms Garima Sancheti: She is a research scholar, working in the field of Radiation and Cancer Biology from Department of Zoology (University of Rajasthan, India). She has to her credit various research papers in scientific journals as well as articles on web. Contact her on

Dr Anshu Shrivastava: He is a Botanist and PhD from BSI- Jodhpur, currently working as Research Associate in SRISTI- Ahmedabad. He can be contacted on

Dr Sanjay Pawar: He is a botanist in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh. Contact him on

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