Gloriosa superba, well known as the glory lily or superb lily, is a tropical climbing plant that features an exotic red flower. The plant is poisonous because of high concentrations of colchicine in all parts of the plant. It is commercially grown for use in Ayurveda medicine and as a cash crop for extracting colchicine in India and Africa. It is a wild plant in Sri Lanka and commercial cultivation is rare. Accidental and suicidal poisonings with Gloriosa tubers are well known and reported. There are no case reports of poisoning by Gloriosa seeds in Sri Lanka. Google and PubMed searches showed no reported cases of poisoning with seeds or their use with homicidal intent in other parts of the world.
A 27-year-old man was brought to hospital with profuse vomiting and diarrhea after drinking coriander tea, which is a common traditional treatment for common cold. The family members suspected poisoning by Gloriosa because they had seeds at home and the victim’s sister-in-law who had made the herbal tea went missing from home. They were able to identify Gloriosa seeds, which looked similar to coriander, in the pot. The patient developed shock and respiratory distress and needed ventilation and intensive care. He also developed mild renal impairment, and thrombocytopenia. He developed massive generalized alopecia while recovering from acute illness. Full recovery was achieved after 15 days of hospital care.
There are many poisonous plants in Asian countries. This case highlights the possibility of accidental or intentional use of Gloriosa seeds or its extracts to cause potentially fatal poisoning. It would be difficult to identify Gloriosa as the cause of poisoning without any background information because of multiple complications that can mimic a systemic infection. This case is a good example of the use of plants as biological weapons.