Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Wonderful marvelous utterly Zimbabwean - The Flame Lily

You can see why it is called a flame lily.

At this time of the year, what with Christmas galloping up on us and everything getting wonderfully festive, I think of flame lilies. Zimbabweans tend to, they bloom in December just in time for Christmas, and are our national flower.  For many of us  the flame lily  is a symbol of home at a time of year when we think of family and friends from Zimbabwe  living diasporatically ( is that even a word?)  around the world.
Gloriosa superba - flame lily
My friend Bart has penned a lovely soul sad poem.


Sudden, unannounced, water in my eye,

A tear springs in betrayal.

I cry for I do not know what, except that I have lost

And looking now at an old photograph am taken somewhere

To an origin, to a flame lily in December grass stems.

It weeps colour, memory beneath a bandaged English winter.

When absences carve holes,

Do bulbs and tubers, seeds and roots

Fill in for me those places where I no longer am,

Where only shadows now remind me of their passing

And the numbers uncounted clocks have leaked?

A mother’s face alight,

Shining with the cut stems of flowers in a vase,

I remember now.

Those walks beside the railway tracks

That gleamed long with longing the distances of past

And bearing bunches, bright red and yellow homeward,

That abundance of gifts my now empty hands so miss

Here is a link Bart Wolffe Poetry for more of Bart's work:

While looking for pictures of Flame lilies I found a few interesting bits and pieces about them that I did not know:

All parts of the flame lily, which is a herb by the way, but especially the roots and seeds contain a poison. Lethal doses have been know to be used as a means of committing suicide.

To demonstrate how highly we regard our flower,  let me tell you that a diamond brooch in the shape of a flame lily was presented, as a gift from Zimbabwe back in the day  when it was Southern Rhodesia, to Queen Elizabeth II.  Here is a little story cribbed , mostly, from this link:

The the Flame Lily Brooch (sometimes also called the Rhodesian Flame Lily).
The Princess Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday while touring southern Africa with her parents and sister.  My Grandfather , as it happens, was part of the South African Police Mounted Guard attached  to (if I am remembering family tales correctly) the Royal Family Tour of South African. But to continue with the story. This brooch was one of her birthday presents, a gift from 42,000 children in Southern Rhodesia. The school children were asked to donate a bit of pocket money each to contribute to the creation of this 301 diamond-strong platinum piece in the shape of a flame lily.
Come on all my Zimbabwe peeps far and wide. Does anyone have a grandparent, parent, a great aunt Mavis  or even a friend who lived in Zimbabwe (at the time Rhodesia) who remembers parting with their pocket money to help pay for the queens birthday pressie?

 I think it may be a favoured piece. What do you think?

Returning home from Kenya after her father's death in 1952, this brooch was the sole striking ornamentation on the young queen's black outfit as she descended the steps of her plane - the first glimpse the public had of their new queen. She wears it to this day.

Interestingly, there are actually two flame lily brooches in the Queen's collection. Both Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother were presented with very similar pieces later on, and the Queen inherited her mother's brooch. It would be terribly difficult (and sometimes impossible) to tell the two apart. Multiples of one brooch: now that's a collection.
 What a lovely story don't you think? If that does not fill you up with warn fuzzy festive feelings well ba-humbug to you in the lead up to Christmas.
Zimbabweans love their flame lilies so much we have had stamps issued,
 coins minted,

and postcards printed.
for the "Whenwes"
for the " liberal Lefties"

I have trawled the internet to find a picture of a flame lily growing in the bush. Sadly I have not found a single picture that come close to what I am looking for. There is a very special feeling that washes over you when you see one in the wild, brilliant orange and red and green against the dry brown of the African landscape. I am disappointed but not crushed that I could not find the kind of picture I wanted to show you. If I had not trawled through the internet looking for one I would not have found all these lovely bits and pieces to share with you.




Jenny O from Downunder said...

Certainly a very striking flower as most flowers in the Lily family are. However, this would probably have to be the most striking. A lovely story about the brooch, too. Merry Xmas

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Sophia :)

Business Course Blog said...

Will send you photos of Andrew's flame lilies growing in his yard here in Adelaide.

Penny Mackenzie said...

Hi Jen, I undersatnd that in Australia flame lilies are a threat to the coastal plants. While in Zimbabwe at the moment they are underthreat of extinction in the wild due to harvesting for sale by road side vendor.

Yvonne do send a photo. that would be lovely.

Anonymous said...

Hi Penny
You have found someone who can testify to this story! My Mom tells of giving money for that brooch - and being taken as a Girl Guide (I think) to view it before it was given to the Princess. I understood she, with others (Guides again I think) went to line the road and saw the Royals go past. She used to often tell us about it when we were young... What is also incredible, is that when the Queen came out to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (was if CHOGM?) in the early 1990's my mom was one of a bunch of Rotarians and their wives who were lining a red carpet in welcome somewhere like the runway at the airport. The Queen was wearing the Brooch that my mother remembered so clearly!

Flame Lilies bring poignant memories to me too, my Gran had a patch of the proper wild scarlet ones that grew singly about a foot high in her garden - and towards this end of the year, we were all banned from getting too close... dogs, grandchildren, gardeners... When we lived in my Gran's old house years later, those same flame lilies still popped up and had a mind of their own as they wandered all over the place!

Tracey O'Brien

Penny Mackenzie said...

Tracey, What a heartwarming connection. Thank you for sharing. The image of everyone having to keep away from the Flame Lily ground is charming. I can just imagine!