Hurricane Lilies

Since spider lilies are difficult to photograph, I brought some stems indoors and created this Ikebana arrangement on Saturday.

I grew up with spider lilies (a.k.a. surprise lilies or hurricane lilies).  In late summer they popped up unexpectedly in almost all the gardens of my childhood.  And yet… I never knew anyone who actually planted them.

Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) are Asian bulbs.  In Japan they are called  Higanbana or “equinox flower” because they usually bloom around the fall equinox.   They were frequently planted around rice paddies because the poisonous bulbs are believed to deter rodents.

In 1854, Captain William Roberts, one of Commodore Perry’s naval officers, brought 3 withered spider lily bulbs home to New Bern, North Carolina – a little souvenir of his travels to Japan.

It took years for the bulbs to become established.  Then they began to multiply yielding the thousands of spider lilies that now populate our southern gardens.

The city of New Bern recently erected a 29′ spider lily sculpture in honor of these events.

Spider lilies do get around!   Once upon a time, Miss Eudora Welty, Felder Rushing and I had a pleasant dinner in a Jackson restaurant.  The topic of conversation was “passalong plants”.   When we were discussing spider lilies, Miss Eudora said that her Mother always said that it was “just indecent the way they multiply…”

Up close and personal with the hurricane lily.

But unlike some other indecently prolific Japanese plants, I don’t consider spider lilies to be invasive.  I can’t think of a single native plant that they have displaced.

Around here, their foliage pops up around December and is usually gone by the end of April.  The leaves are similar to liriope or monkey grass but with a lighter racing strip down the center.  The leaves shrivel and in late August and early September the red feathery flowers materialize out of nowhere – like magic.

I’ve always used the name spider lily for Lycoris radiata.  Recent events, however, have inspired me to adopt another common name.  From now on, they’re hurricane lilies to me.

You see, I live in what the Weather Channel has termed “the land mass between Mobile and New Orleans”.    Even though the Weather Channel forgets Mississippi, my state was at ground zero for two of the three most devastating hurricanes in my lifetime.  And these two, Camille and Katrina, both occurred in the last few days of August.

During that same late August to mid-September time frame, the southeast also experienced Hurricanes Fredric, Andrew, Ivan  and Dennis.  As I write,we’re hunkered down and waiting to see what Hurricane Isaac will do.  And the hurricane lilies are blooming up a storm!

So what I’m thinking is that at least if I call them “hurricane lilies”, I’ll remember to duck and cover when I see those flaming red blooms.

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11 Responses to“Hurricane Lilies”

  1. yardflow says:

    Good idea, Robby. I’m always looking for red flowers for UWA!

  2. Robby says:

    As I child I to picked “hurricane” lillies at my PaPa’s house and took them to my teacher. Perhaps this plant led me to appreciate flora throughout my life. Great article! I’m going to dig some up and plant them in a floral sculpture on the campus of West Alabama!!

  3. yardflow says:

    Yeah, Kim. I think they appeal to kids because they come out of nowhere. As for the reunion, my niece is getting married that weekend so it will depend on what is scheduled for the wedding. May be around Friday night. Hope to see you.

  4. Kim miles says:

    One of my favorite flowers from childhood. There was a huge bed at Overstreet school on the way to the lunchroom. I’ve been wanting to transplant some forever but like you said, you have to be able to find ’em. Maybe in October…I know my sister has them in her back yard, just where… Thanks for the history lesson. See you at the reunion?

  5. yardflow says:

    You can dig as soon as they finish blooming, Peg. Or wait until December when the leaves are just coming up. Bottom line – best when they are not active but have some growth above ground so you can find them.

  6. Peg says:

    They always remind me of my mother and I remember taking them to school to give to my teacher. I don’t have any in my yard and would love some bulbs – when can one divide and plant? There are still some at my parent’s home.

  7. yardflow says:

    Dora, I never divide mine unless I want to move them around to new locations. I will never forget Miss Eudora’s comment though. I can hear it in her wonderful accent and she was smiling when she said it.

  8. Dora says:

    I have to agree with Miss Welty. If I don’t dig and divide every 5 years or so, the bulbs push each other out of the ground.

  9. yardflow says:

    Thanks, Rebecca. I know someone near you who sells the bulbs. Remind me to give you his contact info.

  10. Bubba says:

    Nice. Peace and safety. And day or two off of work? Yay

  11. Rebecca says:

    I wish I had some of them thar hurricane lillies…They sure are purty, even if they do spread “indecently”….we are preparing for the zombie apocalypse also, I mean hurricane Isaac..I have my emergency binder all ready to go in case I have to go out and rescue fellow the first picture with that green background, it makes them pop

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