Each fall, thousands of people head to Japan to the Kinchakuda Manjushage Park in Hidaka to see a spectacular event: five million red spider lilies, or Lycoris radiata, in full bloom. But this radiant spider-shaped flower is just one of many spider lily species in existence, none of which are actual lilies. Spider lilies from differing species are similar, but all are members of the Amaryllidaceae flower family. Most are from the Lycoris or Hymenocallis genuses.
Native to eastern and southern Asia, the Lycoris spider lily grows from a bulb, then dies down after the blooming season. Its roots remain alive through the winter, however, and each year, the bulb sends up new growth. Unlike other flowering plants, spider lily blooms appear without any foliage. In the late summer, colorful flowers blossom in clumps atop leafless green stems or scapes, which grow to between 18 and 30 inches. Its strap-like leaves appear after the plant flowers.
There are more than 60 species of Hymenocallis native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, and the southeastern U.S. It thrives in marshy environments and in home gardens. Large leaves appear first, followed by tall stalks that emerge with curved, star-shaped flowers in shades of white, green, cream, and yellow petals in the late summer. They reach heights of between 12 and 24 inches and make excellent border plants around water gardens.
Many gardeners grow spider lilies outdoors in beds or containers, but they’re also an excellent indoor plant. The beach spider lily, or Hymenocallis littoralis, is a popular houseplant. Each bulb produces multiple shoots with strap-shaped leaves that grow up to 24 inches in length. In mid-summer, the plant produces white, spider-like flowers that arch downward. Beach spider lilies need plenty of sunlight to flower. Keep the soil moist and feed it every two weeks with a seaweed-based fertilizer. Re-pot every two years.
The Lycoris plants grow best in USDA hardiness zones where winter temperatures don’t drop below -10 degrees. Choose a planting site with access to full sun or partial shade. Plant bulbs in late summer or fall, four to six inches apart, with the necks at or slightly above the soil surface. The bulbs’ pointed tips should face skyward. However, if you live in areas at the lowest end of the hardiness zone or slightly below, plant the bulbs at a depth of about two inches. Lycoris squamigera is one of the most cold-hardy species.
This spider lily tolerates temperatures no lower than zero degrees in zone 7, but are mostly hardy in zones 8 through 10. Plant the bulbs between four and six inches deep, in a location with access to full sun or partial shade for more bountiful blooms. If you live in a colder area, plant the bulb in a container and bring it indoors before the first frost arrives. If the pot is around eight inches, plant one bulb per container. In larger pots, you can plant up to three bulbs in the same container.
Medium moisture works well for both of these spider lily varieties. Water the Lycoris lightly until you see growth emerging. After that, moderate watering works best. Stop watering both types during their dormant phases. Once you see the flower stalk emerge, it’s time to start watering daily or every other day, especially when the weather is hot and dry. Hymenocallis favors moist but well-drained soil. Don’t allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Don’t be concerned if your Lycoris doesn’t bloom during its first year. It takes a full season for this plant to establish itself. The common complaint about Hymenocallis is that they don’t produce flowers in the first year, and sometimes not even in the second. You’ll see the Lycoris’ green leaves first appear in the winter, but by the spring, they’ll fade. Avoid pruning off yellow leaves. They continue to provide nutrients that help spur blooms for the upcoming season. Prune the faded leaves once they turn brown and die.
If you love showy flowers, either of these spider lily plants is sure to become a favorite and they don’t require a lot of work. The blooms last for a couple of weeks, making them an excellent choice for vase displays. Both types are deer-resistant, but butterflies love them. Neither has any major pest or disease problems, although leaf spots can develop in the deep areas of the southern U.S
With around 20 species to choose from, Lycoris offers a lineup of gorgeous shades that offer a boost to autumn gardens. The most popular species is Lycoris radiata. In Japan, it’s called “Higanbana,” which translates to “the flower that blooms during the fall equinox,” or “Manjushage,” meaning “the flower in heaven.” Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use them to treat ulcers, stomach problems, and rheumatism. Lycoris aurea has golden yellow flowers, and the elegant Lycoris sprengeri offers blue-streaked pink flowers.
These thick-stemmed, highly fragrant flowers are a lovely addition to gardens as a single flower display or mixed with other bloomers. You’ll discover a huge spectrum of white, yellow, and green-tinged flowers large enough to be seen from a distance.