What is a Red Spider Lily?
The red spider lily, scientifically known as Lycoris radiata, is a plant in the genus Lycoris, under Amaryllidaceae, or the amaryllis family. It is a perennial flowering plant that measures 12 to 18 inches (about 30 to 46 cm) tall and is also known by the common names spider lily, surprise lily, and naked lily. The common names are most likely in reference to its spider-like flowers that quickly appear after dormancy. It also has the habit of shedding its leaves before flowering and growing them again after the flowers are shed.
Its growth season is in late summer and is followed by the appearance of flowers in autumn, which are then replaced by leaves. These dark green and strap-shaped leaves persist until the next summer when the plant undergoes a brief period of dormancy. Bright red in color, the flower of the red spider lily has anthers, the pollen containing part of a flower, that can grow up to 8 inches (about 20 cm) in length. They are arranged in a cluster that give the flower its spider-like appearance. This plant also has bulbs that grow up to roughly 1.2 inches (3 cm) in diameter.
Native to China and Japan, the plant was introduced to North America in the 19th century. The preferred habitats of the red spider lily are shady and moist areas on slopes, stream banks, and meadows. When in cultivation, it should be planted in light and medium well-drained soils. The soil can be acidic, neutral, or alkaline, but it must be moist and rich. This plant will grow best when given full sun exposure, but it can also tolerate partial shade.
The plant is propagated by dividing the bulb during the dormant season. Some gardeners advise planting the bulb divisions in a warm place to ripen them and induce the next flowering period. The leaves of red spider lily are susceptible to hard frosts, and thus require shelter in the winter. It is also sensitive to root disturbances and attacks from pests, such as slugs.
When cultivated as a garden plant, the red spider lily is often placed beside flowers that bloom in the summer, as it can provide color during the autumn to round out the garden. The bulb of this plant also can be used as a source of starch, but must undergo a special cleansing process before it is cooked due to its toxic content. Red spider lily bulbs are sometimes used medicinally, such as in a poultice to treat soreness, inflammation, and burns. The bulbs also have expectorant and emetic properties, substances used to bring up mucus and cause vomiting, and are thus used to treat coughs and counteract poison.
Because one of the Japanese words for this flower means "found in paradise," this could be an appropriate flower for funerals or memorial services. Although it's traditionally associated with loss, I like the idea that the flower is kind of a link to the afterlife.
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