Red spider lilies are native to China, Korea, and Nepal, though they were introduced to Japan in the 1800s where they naturalized and have become symbolically associated with death. They are often seen at funerals or planted on graves. The flowers of this plant have an unusual look, and bloom in early fall in vivid red. They last just a week or two, during which time they fade to a coral-pink.
Red spider lily Overview
|Origin||Nepal, China, and Korea|
|Scientific Name||Lycoris Radiata|
|Type||Flowering perennial bulb|
|Common Names||Red spider lily, hurricane lily, hell flower, resurrection lily, red magic lily, red surprise lily, equinox flower, corpse flower|
|Height||Up to 2 feet|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Watering||Average watering needs|
|Pests||Mostly pest and disease-free|
Red spider lilies are a species of Lycroris, of which there are many varieties. These include the following.
This plant produces delicate white flowers that look identical to the red spider lilies blooms, except for the difference in color. Known as white spider lilies, these plants are marginally hardier than their red counterparts and are suitable for growing through USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9.
Commonly referred to as golden spider lily, this plant produces golden yellow flowers. It works well in flower bouquets, as the cut flowers are both beautiful and long-lasting when cut. This type of Lycoris plant requires full sun to produce an impressive array of blooms.
This stunning plant features pale pink flowers, which look as though they have been dyed blue at the tips of the petals. This unique coloration has earned the plant the common names of tie-dye lily, and electric blue spider lily. It requires a full sun position and is hardy through USDA hardiness zones 6 to 10 (Gardenia).
This is one of the hardiest types of spider lily, and it produces beautiful pink-lilac flowers which have a more typical look about them, as their petals are not as dainty or curled as other spider lilies. The flowers rise above the foliage on tall stems, which typically measure around one and a half feet in length.
Caring for Your Red Spider Lily
Red spider lilies grow from bulbs, which resemble small white onions. These should be placed into a well-draining soil in late summer or early fall, with the pointed end of the bulb pointing upwards to the sky. This pointed part is called the ‘neck,’ and you should plant so that the neck is at soil level, or slightly protruding from the soil.
Bulbs of this kind that are buried beneath the soil will not flower as well. The only exception to this is if you are concerned that the plants won’t be hardy enough to survive in your region. Gardeners who are on the borderline of these plant's hardiness zones can bury the bulb just under the surface of the soil, as this will give it some extra protection against low temperatures and prevent the bulb itself from freezing.
Like most bulbs, these plants do not respond well to being moved, so think carefully about where you plant them as it is not recommended to dig them up and relocate them at a later date. As well as planting red spider lilies directly in the ground, you can also plant them in containers. They grow well in any sort of container as long as it has good depth and drainage holes in the bottom. Red spider lilies have extensive root systems that can quickly grow to fill containers, so start out with a large container so that you won’t need to repot the plants too soon.
Containers should be a minimum of 18 inches deep to allow adequate space for the red spider lilies roots. If the root system is too congested, the plant may respond by never producing flowers. Bulbs should be planted at a distance of 4 inches from each other, and look good when positioned in sets of 3.
After the initial planting, you will need to water the bulb regularly to maintain slightly moist but not wet soil. The bulb is susceptible to rotting if the conditions are too wet, so a well-draining soil will go a long way to ensuring that excess moisture is not held too close to the bulb. If your region receives regular rainfall, then you may not need to water at all during this time. Always check the condition of the soil before you water to make sure you are not drowning the plant.
Once shoots start to appear, you will need to increase watering. Moderate to heavy watering while the plant is flowering will help to increase the length of time that blooms last, though always be careful not to overwater the plant and cause root rot. Flowers of this plant typically last around two weeks, after which time their foliage will develop. You can keep watering this plant while it has foliage, which is typically through winter and into early spring.
As the leaves fade, the plant will enter a period of dormancy over the summer months. Watering should cease during this time, and the soil should be kept dry. Because of this plant's dormant period being during summer, which is the opposite of most plants, you should consider planting it in its own section or flower bed.
If you have other flowers growing close to the red spider lily, which does need to be watered during summer, then you will likely inadvertently end up watering the soil around the spider lily and potentially cause damage to it. Begin watering again in late summer or early fall. (Better Homes and Gardens)
Red spider lilies will grow in almost any type of soil, providing that it drains well. It is unconcerned with soil pH, and will even grow in heavy or poor-quality soils, making it a good choice if you have these less preferable types of soil in your garden.
If you have the option, red spider lilies grow best in soil that is fertile and rich in organic content. A well-draining soil is essential to help prevent root rot and drain water away from the plant.
These plants require plenty of light, around a minimum of 6 hours each day, to bloom abundantly. The best position for your red spider lilies will be in a spot where they have sun for most of the day but are shaded for the hottest part of the afternoon. This will provide them with some protection when the sun's rays are at their most intense, and it is especially important if you are in a hot climate.
Red spider lilies will tolerate a position of full sun, particularly if your climate is on the cooler end of the appropriate hardiness zones. These plants tend to produce the most impressive blooms when they are allowed to sit in the sun for the majority of the day, with a few hours of shade. One way to offer this is to plant the red spider lilies under the sparse canopy of a tall tree, where the branches will provide dappled shade.
If you grow this plant in a container, then you have the option of experimenting with lighting positions, moving the pot around until you find the spot which works best for the red spider lily in your climate. Red spider lilies grown in partial shade will bloom earlier in the year than those grown in a full sun position. You could plant the bulbs in various locations throughout your garden so that their blooming time is staggered, giving you flowering plants for a longer period.
Red spider lilies are hardy through USDA hardiness zones 7 to 10, though many growers find they also fare well in zone 6. They enjoy warm weather and will not survive climates that experience freezing conditions through the winter.
If you are growing red spider lilies in the lower end of the hardiness zones, it is advisable to bury the bulb slightly deeper than usual when planting, as this will offer some protection against low temperatures. In cooler climates, this plant will also need protection over winter, with deep layers of mulch.
The flowers of the red spider lily bloom for just a few weeks during September or October. One of their common names, ‘hurricane lily,’ comes from the fact that these plants flower during hurricane season. The flowers appear on tall stems measuring between 1 and 2 feet in height.
Flowers show before leaves have started to develop, with between 4 and 6 blooms being produced by each bulb. The flowers have a unique appearance, with coral-red slender and dainty petals which curl inwards at the ends, and stamens which protrude further out than the petals.
Once the flowers fade, the foliage emerges in a green-blue color on long and slender leaves. The leaves remain throughout winter, all the way through to the following spring when they die and fall off the plant. The plant is bare throughout summer, when it enters a period of dormancy before shoots make an appearance again in late summer or early fall, and the cycle repeats.
Red spider lilies are a low maintenance plant which requires very little time and effort to thrive. When their leaves fade in springtime, some gardeners are tempted to remove their leaves, but if this is done prematurely, then the plant will be deprived of vital nutrients.
As the leaves die, the plant absorbs all of the nutrients contained within the leaves. This process should be allowed to complete before removing dying leaves from the plant. Once they are entirely brown and will easily come away from the plant, they can be pruned off. Though they may look a little messy or unsightly while they are yellowing, they are providing the plant with nutrients that will help the plant flower the following season.
Bulbs will produce bulb offsets, allowing your patch of red spider lilies to grow in size each year. Between 5 and 7 years after planting, the mass of bulbs which will have developed underground will need to be divided to encourage good health, but also as a means to propagate the plant and create more new red spider lilies for your own garden, or to gift to family and friends.
One sign that your bulbs need to be divided is if the flowers produced have become smaller than usual. This typically happens when the root systems become so crowded that each plant is fighting for moisture and nutrients to be able to produce blooms.
Red spider lilies resent being disturbed, so you should try only to divide them when it is necessary for the plant's health. Avoid disturbing these plants for any other reason. Only divide the plant during the summer when it has entered dormancy. If you divide a red spider lily while it has foliage or flowers on it, you could disturb its growing process, and be left with a plant which does not flower again for several years.
To divide them, carefully dig around the soil where they are growing, and lift the bulbs out of the soil, ideally with their entire root systems attached. Brush off excess soil so that you can get to work on the bulbs, pulling them apart into smaller groups. Replant the bulbs at the same level in the soil as they were before, in a new location in your garden, or in a container. Water the plants generously to help them settle in.
Red spider lilies are poisonous to humans and animals, and therefore are best for homes that do not have children or pets. The benefit of their toxic quality is that it discourages deer and rabbits from feasting on your garden. In fact, throughout history, Japanese farmers have edged their rice fields with red spider lily bulbs to keep out mice and other pests.