Plant This: Spider lily


Lycoris radiata at sunset

A little later than usual, but already putting on a better show than last year, when the garden was struggling through a long drought, the spider lilies have sprung up seemingly overnight.


In the morning light, the lilies are a cooler red.

Also known as hurricane lily—it blooms during hurricane season—Lycoris radiata stands, like a resting flamingo, on a long, bare stem. Narrow green leaves appear after the flower fades, and that’s a good time to divide the bulb, while you can still find it. Once the leaves and the flower stem have died back, it’s easy to forget about this fall bloomer until next year.

I inherited these bulbs at my last house, where an earlier gardener had planted them and they’d been taking care of themselves ever since, multiplying and blooming each September. I dug up a few before my move and stuck them amid the rudbeckias in my new garden, in the light shade of the vitex tree, where they pop up after the rudbeckias have finished blooming. The red berries of a nearby chile pequin echo the red of the spider lilies.


A view from above. From this angle, it kind of reminds me of Pride of Barbados.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

35 Responses

  1. Phillip says:

    Same story here. I noticed that they were blooming all over my garden yesterday. It is so odd how they just pop up overnight.

  2. Layanee says:

    I will try to enjoy them via the internet but it is a poor substitute for the ‘real’ ones. Such a vibrant color as the season winds down but then we all have our version of the vibrant colors don’t we. They are exotic!

    Yes, our fall color appears in perennials and bulbs, rather than tree foliage. I’d trade a whole lot of bulbs for a glorious sugar maple, Layanee. ;-) —Pam

  3. In Japanese, spider lilies are called higanbana which translates to “Equinox Flower”. So far, I only have one that began sending up its stalk in a timely fashion on the equinox. No flower yet. (By Thursday I hope.) I saw a front yard full of them on South 1st Street last week. Everyone else says they’re a great flower for the south but I don’t have consistent results from them. They don’t flower but they don’t die out either. I always get tufts of new growth every year even in spots I’ve moved them from. Just no flowers. (sigh)

    Whenever I move mine, they wait a year before flowering. Perhaps yours just haven’t gotten settled? —Pam

  4. bright says:

    those are great! i love spider lilies… yours are just beautiful.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Oh, the ache of “flower envy” is running through my body right now. I simply must have some of those -time to start shopping! :)

    No need for that, Bonnie. I don’t have a huge number, but I can definitely share a couple with you after they finish blooming. —Pam

  6. Robin says:

    I’m trying to remember if I had these at my house in Tuscaloosa or if it was my m-i-l that had them. I think it was her. I don’t remember them being as pretty as yours though.

    I suppose Indiana is too far north for them, Robin? —Pam

  7. irena says:

    wow. you’re garden just keeps going and going. i can’t believe how much stuff you’ve got in bloom. And your grass pictures have convinced me that I need more than the lawn variety in my garden. I also enjoyed your recent neighbourhood tour. What a pretty place to live.
    Cheers,
    Irena

    Fall is central Texas’ second growing season, Irena, and my favorite season of all. As MSS at Zanthan Gardens has pointed out, fall is to Texas gardeners as spring is to northern gardeners—the reward for a long, difficult gardening season. One great thing about ornamental grasses is that there’s a good selection for every region, no matter how far north or south.

    Thanks for your comments! —Pam

  8. Your spider lilies are very pretty and it’s obvious how they got their name. What fun that they pop up more or less overnight! One day no spider lilies, the next TADA there they are. I love surprises like that! My garden is slowly but surely winding down but I’m looking forward to see what all the Austin gardeners will come up with during the winter season!

    Hi, YE. We’ll be gardening well into November, but the garden does eventually slow down here too, for a couple of months. The first signs of spring will appear in late January and early February. —Pam

  9. Ki says:

    What wonderful looking lilies. I always wanted to plant some Lycoris but they are so expensive. Just having a few plants didn’t seem right when they seem to beg to be planted en masse.

    Oh, I don’t know. I only brought a few with me from my last garden, and I was happy enough to see those few bloom. Spider lilies seem a little slow to multiply, so it will be years before I really have a lot of them. And yes, they are expensive. Better to acquire them as I did—from a previous gardener or the little old lady down the street. ;-) —Pam

  10. kate says:

    The spider lilies are such a wonderful colour and shape. They look so exotic. I really liked the picture from overhead and also the difference in their colour in morning light and then at sunset.

  11. Pam says:

    This is something that I keep meaning to plant – I think they do well here too. Yours are beautiful, and thanks for the reminder!

  12. shirl says:

    Hi again, Pam

    Gosh what stunning flowers – they instantly reminded me of a firework bursting open :-)

  13. Pam/Digging says:

    Kate, Pam, and Shirl, thanks for your comments. Spider lilies are one of those “stick ‘em in the ground and forget about them” plants. It’s nice to see their unexpected display at summer’s end.

  14. vanessa says:

    Mine are blooming here in Houston, TX. I acquired mine from a bed at work about 5 years ago when the bed was going to be redone. My friend and I just dug them up. They did require a year or two before they started blooming and I noticed some of mine still haven’t bloomed but put out leaves. I even have some in pots blooming. Some just didn’t make for what ever reason. I love them. Wish they had a longer blooming season, though. This year I am putting in plastic markers at their locations because in case we move some time, I want to be able to find them and take them with me.

    I also acquired the larger yellow ones when one of my fellow employees “got tired of them” –these are also beautiful and blooming right now too.

    Question, should I cut off the bloom stalk after blooming –or does it matter? I usually just leave them alone. I have cut a few to bring in the house to enjoy.

    Question, do they respond better if fertilized and with what?

    Thanks,
    Vanessa

    Hi, Vanessa. Thanks for commenting. I haven’t seen the yellow spider lilies, but they sound lovely. I’m not an expert on spider lilies, but I don’t think the stalk matters. What’s important is to allow the leaves to grow so the bulb can get more energy. (If anyone reading this thinks differently, please let me know.) As for fertilizer, I’m not really into that. I don’t do anything to mine beyond plant them in soil amended with compost, and they bloom just fine. —Pam

  15. vanessa says:

    Pam, Tomorrow I will try to send a digital photo of the yellow ones. Thanks for your info.

    Vanessa

  16. Sarah Lindsey says:

    I just recently dug up some bulbs in Lexington, Mississippi so I could have some of my own. What do I do now? DO I let them dry or should I plant them? I don’t currently have a yard so I was going to put them in a pot until I have one. They were blooming when I dug them up, is that bad?
    Is it possible for you to reply back via my email?
    Thanks for your help,
    Sarah

    Sarah, I’d go ahead and plant them. Or, if you’ll have a yard by springtime, you could just store them in a bag in a dry, cool place through the winter. Don’t expect blooms the first fall after planting. Spider lilies can take a while to settle in after being transplanted. Good luck and happy digging. —Pam

  17. rebecca says:

    We moved into this house nov of last year, so when these flowers started popping up i didnt know what they were. I got so excited and started calling my sisters and sending them pictures of them. They are so pretty ive never seen one til this morning!!

    A flowering bulb can be such a fun surprise when you move to a new home. Enjoy your beautiful spider lilies. —Pam

  18. Linda Middleton says:

    Hi, Pam! A lone Spider Lily just appeared one day in my back yard (I used to call it a garden, but my Bischons have made it something else!) Anyway, I thought it was a weed and was a little afraid to touch it. My husband and I laughed about it (while enjoying it) everyday when we came home from work. We finally decided to call it the alien flower since it just appeared without being planted by me. Glad to have it in my “yard.” I’m going to dig up the bulbs and plant them somewhere safer!

    Linda

    Don’t you just love those surprise appearances? That’s how I ended up with spider lilies too. They just appeared one fall in the back yard. Hello! Naturally, I dug some up and brought them along with me to this garden, and I plan to do so again for my next move. Enjoy your “alien flower,” and thanks for commenting. —Pam

  19. Peggy Kimmel says:

    I discovered my flower last weekend as I was preparing for winds from Hurricane Ike, so I cut it and brought it in. Tonight I called a fellow Aggie (Melina) in Atlanta and she found this website. Imagine my surprise to find out it is a ‘hurricane lily’! So I’m adding it to the list of cool things in my yard, where things are always popping up because the house is circa 1895. So glad you had what I needed. Caldwell, Texas

    It is aptly named, isn’t it? How wonderful that it appeared in your yard in time for you to save it from the hurricane’s winds. Thanks for commenting, Peggy. —Pam

  20. becky says:

    I love the spider lilies/higanbana but cannot find anywhere to purchase the bulbs in arkansas . I have about 6 but want more.

    Have you tried Southern Bulb Co., Becky? Happy digging! —Pam

  21. CHUCK says:

    PAM… I SAW THE FIRST SPIDER LILLIES THAT I HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR ,TODAY!!! I IMMEDIATELY TOLD MY FRIEND WHO WAS RIDING WITH ME, THAT “WINTER IS JUST SIX WEEKS AWAY.” SHE HAD NEVER HEARD THAT…ONE OF OUR FORMER NEIGHBORS USED TO SAY THAT EVERY TIME THEY BLOOMED…HAVE YOU EVER HEARD THAT? YOU LADIES ARE RIGHT, IT’S A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE TO SEE THEM!!! I DECIDED TO LOOK ON-LINE TO SEE IF THAT WAS MENTIONED… BUT I HAVEN’T READ THAT, YET. WITH ALL OF OUR SOUTH MISSISSIPPI HURRICANES, I AM GLAD TO KNOW THEY ARE KNOWN AS HURRICANE FLOWERS TOO…THEY ARE SURVIVORS, AS WELL…!!! THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENTS..I JUST HAD TO ADD MINE, TOO… CHUCK

    Hi, Chuck. I’ve never heard it said that spider lilies mean winter is six weeks away. I guess it depends on where one gardens. Here in Austin, we won’t even have our first freeze in six weeks, much less winter. (Thank goodness!) By the way, I just put up new pics of my spider lilies on my home page. —Pam

  22. CHUCK says:

    oooops, sorry for the CAPS! Chuck

    No problem! —Pam

  23. Rebecca says:

    I live in the country and have access to old, abandoned homesites where someone lovingly planted spider lillies years ago. I have planted many in beds (or else my husband will mow them down)and would like to save/dry some for my next bed and/or to give to friends. Any suggestions on how to successfully dry spider lilly bulbs? – Rebecca

    Hmm, I’ve just plopped the ones I dug up in a pot with a little dirt in it. These are tough bulbs, and I think they’ll handle being left in a paper bag and kept in a cool, dry location if you’re not ready to plant them yet. Lucky you to have access to so many spider lilies! —Pam

  24. Sue Hand says:

    I bought white Spider Lilies 6 years ago and they have multiplied each year but stopped blooming all together after the 3rd year … the foliage is lush and tall but no flowers. Something (slugs) is munching on the edges of the leaves. Could that be the problem? I see no evidence of a stalk.

    I had a problem with other bulbs not blooming and finally despaired, dug them up and discarded about 250 of them. I would hate to have to give up on these. Any suggestions?

    Sue

    I know the red spider lilies can take two seasons to bloom after planting or transplanting them, but that doesn’t sound like the problem in your case. Maybe they’re in too much shade? You could try dividing them and putting some in a sunnier location. And Sluggo works well for getting rid of slugs. Good luck, Sue. —Pam

  25. Gee says:

    Can i put spider lily bulbs in the fridge or freezer or under the house till i am ready to plant them?

    I don’t know, Gee. I’ve stored bulbs in a cool shed for weeks at a time, but that’s all I’ve tried. —Pam

  26. glynda says:

    I would like to purchase some spider lilly bulbs if you have any for sale??

    I don’t, Glynda. But try Southern Bulb Company. —Pam

  27. sandy o'riordan says:

    In Trinidad WI The only spider lily is white,having never seen this beautyfull colour before,it does remind me of the Barbados pride,do you think this particular spider lily will take to our caribbean climate if so i’ll be looking to buying some bulbs,in the very near future Sandy

    I really don’t know about the Caribbean climate, Sandy. You could compare your average temps to Austin’s to see if they seem similar enough. And I’ve seen these for sale at Southern Bulb Co.’s online catalog. —Pam

  28. Chuck says:

    Hey Pam and Spider Lilly Friends,

    According to My Mail To You from Last Year, The Spider Lillies are blooming earlier this year in the deep south. It’s been at least two weeks ago that I saw the first ones and there had been an article in the Local Paper with a pic of White Ones..I still Havent seen the white lillies..The ones I have seen were in abundance, here. My Friend Reminded me that She didn’t say that they come “six weeks before Winter,” but Six weeks before the first frost. They are beautiful to see whenever they arrive. Happy Gardening to All of You! Chuck

    Hi, Chuck, it’s good to hear from you again, and I’m glad that your spider lilies are back and bringing you joy. I moved last fall and transplanted many bulbs into my new garden. But they resent being moved and are showing no indication of appearing this year. I’m pinning my hopes for them on next fall—patience is required with these bulbs. Re: “6 weeks before frost instead of winter”…maybe in some locations. But Austin doesn’t usually get its first frost until around Thanksgiving, so it’s more like 8 weeks for us. :-) —Pam

  29. Wendy says:

    I live in Alabama and have spider lilies in a pot on my back porch. They still have the green foliage. How do I dig them up to store them for the winter? Do I cut the tops before I dig them up? If I cut the tops, do I have to wait a period of time before I dig them up, etc. Just need some advice because last year I didn’t dig the bulbs up, I just left them in the pot and put them in the basement and over half of them didn’t come back this year. Thanks, Wendy

    I’ve never dug up spider lilies for winter, and I suspect you don’t need to either in Alabama. But for sure you don’t want to cut off the leaves because that’s what the plant uses to make energy for blooming next year. Once the bloom has faded and dried you can cut off the bloom stalk, but leave the leaves. I find that spider lilies resent being moved. They bloom best after being left in place for a couple of years. Good luck! —Pam

  30. Karen says:

    I just dug up some of my spider lilies. The greenery was not faded completely. I seperated them and let dry for a couple of days. They feel a little spongy. They are not hard like narcicus bulbs I dug up last year. Are they OK? or did I dig them up too soon.

    Also, I noticed others who want to buy Spider Lily bulbs. I have hundreds in my yard. I live in South Georgia. I would like to sell some of them.

    They should feel firm, Karen. I don’t know if digging them up would have caused it. Maybe they were suffering from root rot if the winter has been very damp? Just a guess. —Pam

  31. Judy says:

    O-ThX ye, thX ye! I look thru so many flowers this morning trying to find the answer to what kind of flower popped up in this yard. Just two. I’ve NEVER seen such flowers before and they are beautiful! They only lasted a couple of days but at least I got some pixs of them! Mine looked a little different but similar enough to see they are related. And the comment from the person calling it ‘alien’ plant was right…it was a gift to me from the aliens I have been getting pixs of. If they read this I thX ye for the beautiful gift! And thX you page person for putting these up to give me validation. If you want to see the aliens go to WebShots and look for me: Democratbrat. Have a great day!

  32. Sara says:

    Hi, I tried reading a few of the questions but I never got an answer to my question I Had about digging up the bulbs. When is the proper time to dig up the bulb? After the flower has bloomed, if so how long after? I just don’t want to waste my time or the bulbs. Thanks for your time.

    Dig them after they’ve finished blooming, Sara, but before the foliage has died away and you can’t find them. Don’t cut off the leaves once the flower dies because the bulb uses the leaves to store energy for next year’s bloom. Spider lilies don’t mind a little afternoon shade here in central Texas, but they do need some sun. They are also temperamental about being moved and may not bloom the next spring. Don’t be alarmed by this; just give them time to adjust and wait for the next year. —Pam

  33. Robert says:

    I didn’t plant these lilies in my garden they just magically appeared.
    The only thing I can figure is that squirrels must have buried them. But they are a Beautiful and pleasant surprise.

    Hi, Robert. Congrats on your spider lilies. I don’t think squirrels would be the culprits (benefactors?) here. Probably they were there all along and conditions just became right for them to bloom, or they grew naturally from clumps in a neighbor’s yard. At any rate, lucky you! —Pam

  34. CHUCK says:

    Hello Pam and Spider Lily Friends, I Came Looking for Your Web Site. I Thought of You, Immediately, When I Saw the “First” Spider Lillies, of The Season! What a Great Reminder, that Cooler Days Are Ahead. : )
    The Ones I Have Seen are In Large Clusters instead of
    Sporadically Bursting across the lawns…They Are Beautiful Wherever They Are! I Hope Yours Are Rebounding after Your Move. The Days In South Mississippi are Still Hot, But these Cooler Nights are Great!! I Wish Spider Lillies Brightened Our World, More Often! Harvest Blessings to All of You! Chuck

  35. Katherine says:

    I first saw the blooming spider lily in my Mom’s yard, years ago. Neither of us knew the name. She just told me she got some bulbs from a neighbor, who did not know the name either. My Mom gave me some bulbs and I planted them in a backyard flower bed and promptly forgot about them. They did not bloom for several years and I actually forgot where I planted them. One year, several finally bloomed. When I moved to my new home 11 years ago, I dug up some bulbs and brought them with me and finally planted them in the back yard. Again, nothing bloomed for at least two years, but the bulb multiplied and they had some foliage. About the time they bloomed, I read about “hurricane lilies” in the Houston Chronicle, after Hurricane Ike – that is when I finally learned they were called by several names, included naked ladies and spider lilies! Now, I plant them in pots and scatter the pots in the flower beds, so I can always find them!

    That’s a great tip, Katherine. Thanks for sharing. —Pam