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Chapter: Modern Medical Toxicology: Organic Poisons (Toxins): Irritant Plants

Glory Lily(Gloriosa superba) - Gastric Irritant Plants

Glory Lily(Gloriosa superba) - Gastric Irritant Plants
Botanical Name: Gloriosa superba - Other Common Names: Climbing lily; Superb lily.

Glory Lily

Botanical Name

Gloriosa superba

Other Common Names

Climbing lily; Superb lily.

Physical Appearance

This plant belonging to family Liliaceae is a large, herba- ceous, climbing annual.

■■   It is a slender vine with a thick tuberous root, resembling a sweet potato.

■■   Leaves terminate in tendril-like, long, curling tips.

■■   Flowers are large, solitary, yellow or red, crinkled, and long-stalked (Fig 10.12). They appear to be “upside-down”, with the stamens and pistils pointing downward.


·      The juice from the leaves is used as a pediculoside (to kill head lice).

·       The root is used to treat various ailments in folk medicine.

Toxic Part

Leaves, root.

Toxic Principles

Root contains colchicine and gloriosine. The tubers contain an estimated 6 mg/10 gm of tuber of colchicine along with gloriosine, which is a related alkaloid.

Clinical Features

·      Acute poisoning with the root results in severe vomiting, diarrhoea, tachycardia, chest and abdominal pain.

·      More severe effects such as hypotension, bradycardia, seizures, bone marrow suppression, coagulopathy, ECG changes, respiratory failure and death have been reported less commonly.

·      Acute colchicine overdose results in severe toxicity which may be delayed 2 to 12 hours postingestion. Toxic effects occur in three phases.

·              Early Phase (2 to 24 hours): Severe GI symptoms(nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, haemorrhagic gastroenteritis) with resulting electrolyte abnormalities, volume depletion, and hypotension. Ingestion often causes numbness of the lips, tongue and throat.

·              Second Phase (24 to 72 hours): Multisystem failure,with fever and neurological (confusion, coma, ascending peripheral neuropathy), pulmonary, renal, hepatic, haema-tological, and cardiovascular toxicity. Seizures have been reported in children. Death may occur from respiratory failure, cardiovascular collapse, or sudden asystole. Sepsis is a common cause of death at 3 to 7 days.

·              Third Phase (7 to 10 days): Phase of recovery, and ischaracterised by a rebound leukocytosis and reversible alopecia. Fever may persist for several weeks.

Usual Fatal Dose

The estimated fatal dose of pure colchicine is 7 to 60 mg. The colchicine content of tubers of Gloriosa superba is approxi-mately 0.3%. A potentially lethal amount would therefore be contained in 2.5 to 5 grams of tubers.


·              High-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrom- etry has been described for the identification and quantifica- tion of colchicine in human serum following a toxic plant

·              Radioimmunoassay and enzyme immunoassays have also  been developed for colchicine.


·              Following a substantial ingestion, the patient should be period, which may last up to 12 hours.

·              Decontamination: Activated charcoal therapy may be effective. Colchicine is believed to undergo enterohepatic recirculation. Multiple dose activated charcoal may inter- rupt enterohepatic recirculation, though there is no clinical evidence that this decreases toxicity or improves outcome.

·              Symptomatic and supportive measures:

o     Fluid and electrolyte status, especially potassium levels, should be followed closely, with administration of appropriate IV fluids.

o     A complete blood count should be done daily, moni- toring for bone marrow depression. Patients suffering from bone marrow depression should be isolated to protect the patient from infection.

o     Analgesics or opiates (with an anticholinergic drug if necessary) may be used to control severe abdominal pain.

o     Ascending paralysis with respiratory involvement requires aggressive supportive care including mechan- ical ventilation.

Forensic Issues

·              Accidental poisoning may occur when the tuber of Gloriosasuperba is mistaken for sweet potato.

·              Suicidal ingestions are not uncommon wherever the plant grows well.


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