Gloriosa superba

The gloriosa superba is certainly glorious, but what's the silly name all about?

Gloriosa-ly daft

Silly names are everywhere. People, places, anything in Dutch or Latin, you name it; silly names abound. In terms of the people division, there are a few crackers, which by all accounts are 100% genuine.

No silly names compendium is complete without the famous cricket umpire by the name of Dicky Bird. What were Mr and Mrs Bird possibly thinking when they named their new-born son Richard? Perhaps their faux pas is a little more excusable than all those Mr and Mrs Heads the world over who decided to honor their offspring with the same first name.

The shortened form of Richard is more than a little unfortunate, after all. Dick Trickle (a NASCAR driver) Dick Hyman (a so-called ‘famous’ jazz musician), Dick Bender (some American sports person) and Dick Pole (a major league baseball player) are all blessed with epithets that would certainly have made their school days anything but boring.

Enough Dicks then. There’s a bloke in the UK called Russell Peacock who didn’t realize until after his son’s christening that he and his wife really shouldn’t have decided to call him Drew. Having said that I knew a John Thomas in the UK. By the way, Amanda Lay is a current student at Ball State University in Indiana, and the more innocent April Schauer is a young female golfer from Montana.

Even football teams aren’t immune; the daft thing is that they choose them. The Dutch have their very own Go Ahead Eagles Deventer (who actually started life as ‘Be Quick’). In Scotland’s minor leagues, we have the somewhat nonchalant-sounding Civil Service Strollers, and Hawick Royal Albert.

In England, why ‘Aston Villa’ and ‘Port Vale’? Why does Dublin have a team called ‘Bohemians’? Given all of the above, the silliest names are those bestowed by UEFA on London teams. For some reason they list Arsenal as FC Arsenal London, and Chelsea under the banner of FC Chelsea London. What next? FC Everton Liverpool? The Scousers would love that.

The English do seem to have an unfortunate knack of dreaming up the most bizarre, unlikely place names possible. What possible reason would anyone have to name two neighboring Yorkshire villages Nether Poppleton and Upper Poppleton? Equally, I’m sure the Irish are honored to live in the lovely Donegal spot, Muff.

Norway has its Hell, and there’s a village in Austria that’s proud to be called ****ing. The main problem that they have is too many tourists pinching the ****ing signs. The mayor was even in the paper, whinging about the influx of visitors. He was a little sick of tired of saying “No, we don’t have any ****ing postcards”. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

What seems to be a lot more made up is Latin names for plants. (Mr Editor, do I get the prize for most tenuous link of the week?) What are these botanist types thinking? Surely this is nothing more than a committee of academics who have nothing better to do than sit round and invent strings of words in Latin.

They will of course contend that there’s a system behind it – it’s supposed to explain the family, genus and species, plus the scientific origins, etc. That’s what they say, anyway.

There’s one particular plant where I’m convinced that these academics just got bored one day, and invented a Latin name just to see if anyone noticed that they were just having a bit of a laugh. They came up with gloriosa superba, for what the rest of us know as the glory lily. In Thai, it’s a daao-dueng.

To be fair, they weren’t wrong; it really is glorious, but in the words of Monty Python, “You’re just making it up as you go along”. I’ll let them off. This plant is magnificent, and one that more commonly grows wild than deliberately planted in our gardens.

Originally from the tropical areas of Africa, it’s now made its way to our part of the world, and seems to be particularly happy with the sea air and climate we have in Phuket at this time of the year.

It consists of six narrow red or red-and-yellow petals that cluster together, with six stamens (the sticking-out part of a flower with the pollen on the end) protruding at right-angles below. The color is almost dayglo in intensity; pass one of these bushes in full bloom and it screams out at you.

Watching the development of these flowers is a pretty amazing process, all stages of which you can usually see on a single branch. It starts with a small green lump, which gradually turns yellow, and develops into a miniature flower. This gradually gets bigger and develops into the full-blown dayglo petals.

There they sit for a while to allow the fertilization process to happen, then the petals lose their color and die back. By now a pod has formed beneath the flower, which grows as the flower disappears. The finished article is a seed pod, which eventually drops off the plant to start the process all over again. This is biology for beginners, and you can literally watch it happen. Sorry – I’m starting to sound like my primary school science teacher.

Even the leaves of the glory lily are distinctive, which give the plant another common name – the climbing lily. From a distance, they look like any other lance-shaped 3-inch long leaf, but close-up, you can see that the tips of the leaves have tiny snake-tail coils at the end. This is what they use to wrap around and grab hold of whatever is around them and use them for support. This is not your average lily.

The climbing lily is at its most dramatic when it seems to bloom out of some other plant. Because any green shrub can provide support, these flowers can seem to appear out of a totally unrelated hedge. The vine itself is a bit weak and pathetic when it stands alone, so it’s best combined with something else. It could be another vine on a trellis, a shrub, or a fence along with morning glories or something similar.

You probably don’t even need to plant it – if you live in Phuket there’s a strong chance that it’s either already in your garden or nearby. I only had to walk a hundred meters from my house to find one. 

It’s known as a tuberous plant, mainly because it grows from underground tubers. If you do want a glory lily for yourself, pluck off a well-ripened seedpod off, take it home and allow it to dry out for a while. Stick the tuber on its side a few cm below the surface in some compost and wait a few days for the seedlings to appear. Nothing to it.

About the only thing left to do is to give it a new name. You can call it absolutely anything you want but please try to be a little more imaginative than the experts who came up with something so gloriosa-ly inane. I tell you what – let’s call it Richard. Much funnier.



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