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Zimbabwe's Flame Lily

Africa is a continent of diverse climates and landscapes and is the one of largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. Sadly, not all countries in Africa have a national flower. Those that do, include Egypt (Lotus), Ethiopia (Calla Lily), Kenya (unofficially -Tropical Orchid), Lesotho (Aloe Vera), Liberia (Pepper), Libya (Pomegranate Blossom), Madagascar (Poinciana), South Africa (King Protea), Tunisia (Jasmine), Zambia (Bougainvillea) and in Zimbabwe, the threatened Flame Lily.

This striking lily is officially called the Gloriosa Superba and the local languages it is known as ‘Amakukhulume’ in Ndebele and ‘Kajongwe’ meaning cockerel in Shona. Beautiful in a vase, it is even more glamorous in its natural setting. It can climb up to eight feet using tendrils and the flower can reach five inches across. The contrast of the bright red and yellow petals on rocky outcrops in semi-shaded areas, such as forests, makes it a target for poachers.

Although the Flame Lily is grown in tropical regions of Asia and Australia, it is protected by the Zimbabwean government under the Parks and Wildlife Act. The flower is becoming scarce as the price for a bunch has rocketed to US$8. When poachers pick the Flame Lily they are not only breaking the law, they are also damaging the plant which will prevent it from regrowing. It is thus now a crime to pick, damage, posses or exchange the lily unless within the limits of a permit. Offenders face a large fine and a maximum sentence of six months in prison if caught. But for those who live on the poverty line in Zimbabwe, trade in this flower can make a huge financial difference to a family. It is possible to make up to US$80 in a day during the wet flowering season.

The Flame Lily is a symbol of purity and beauty around the world, but in Zimbabwe it has been woven into the country’s history. It was the national flower of Rhodesia and remained so when the country gained independence in 1980 and became Zimbabwe. In 1947 when the current queen of Great Britain, Elizabeth visited Zimbabwe as a princess, she was given a diamond brooch in the shape of a Flame Lily by the people of then Rhodesia.

Along with the rose, daisy, sunflower, lilac, tulip, orchid, carnation, daffodil and the violet, the lily is one of the most popular flowers in the world and Zimbabwe is working hard to save its national Flame Lily from extinction.

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