Doryanthes excelsa

Giant Lily, Flame Lily, Spear Lily, Illawarra Lily, Gymea Lily

Family: Doryanthaceae

The Gymea Lily is a hardy, clumping monocot with fibrous sword-like leaves.

It occurs in coastal NSW, from as far south as possibly Nowra, along the coast in disjunct occurrences, to as far north as just south of Grafton. Plants occurs heavily south and north of Sydney. Interestingly, natural populations are seldom found, generally, between Botany Bay and Broken Bay. It is found in extensive numbers around Nelson Bay and in Royal National Park.

It is typically found in dry sclerophyll woodland and forest in sandstone gullies and sandy deposits.

Leaves are simple and very large – to 1.5 m long and to 12 cm wide; produced in a large basal whorl (or rosette). Leaves grow from a thickened underground stem which penetrates deep into the ground to protect against drought and fire; light to mid-green in colour.

Flowers are produced on a elevated vertical scape to 5 metres tall, with a head (compound raceme) of large bright red / pinkish-red flowers (usually with a gradient of tones), with individual flowers up to 20 cm across, consisting of 6 ‘tepals’ (3 petals and 3 sepals which are undifferentiated; a typical “lily” feature); appearing in spring and summer. Flower spikes first appear after about 7 years.

The inflorescence then produced multiple fruits or capsules, each to about 10 cm long with seeds having wings.

In the garden

This striking plant makes a bold architectural statement. It is suitable for landscaping and suits a large garden. It is a good rockery plant and thrives in full sun or part shade. It attracts nectar feeding birds and insects. It benefits from extra watering in dry periods.

It benefits from a deeper soil so it can obtain anchorage.

Some gardeners report trouble in getting plants to flower. Tips include giving potash and even placing rocks down in the centre of leaves, where a flowering stem may emerge.

Allow some room for expansion. Does best on a free-draining soil. Very hardy once established. It tolerates full sun or part shade. It is moderately frost tolerant but needs protection from heavy frosts.


Can be propagated from seed or by dividing the clump.

Other information

Doryanthes excelsa was used by First Nations Peoples of Australia; both roasting the flower spikes and the roots mashed and made into cakes. The leaves were used for weaving.

The flower stalk of D. excelsa differs from Doryanthes palmeri, in that the stalk stands upright (rather than drooping) and the flowers are in a globular arrangement rather than a spreading raceme. The leaves are also not as rigid as those of D. palmeri.

Plants respond readily after fire due to the tough buried stem. A rosette of leaves will emerge very quickly after fire. At times, there will be large spectacular flowering events of this species at 12–24 months after fire.

Doryanthes is an Australian endemic genus of two species. Both species occur in NSW with one in Queensland.

Doryanthes – a composite of two Greek words, dory (δόρυ), meaning “spear”, and anthos meaning “flower” – capturing the flowers on the end of a spear-like scape.

excelsa – derived from the Latin, excelsus, meaning “high” or “lofty”.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

Australian National Herbarium – Doryanthes excelsa profile page https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp12/doryanthes-excelsa.html

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Doryanthes excelsa profile page    https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Doryanthes~excelsa

Gardening with Angus – Doryanthes excelsa profile page    https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/doryanthes-excelsa-gymea-lily/

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

By Heather Miles. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.