LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(10/30/20) Surprise! There was a hurricane, and these lilies might be telling you about the weather.
Have you ever noticed the beautiful red flowers that just seem to pop up out of nowhere in late summer, usually in August and September? Their bloom just so happens to coincide with hurricane season, and that is how they earned their name hurricane lily.
If you are looking for great texture, showy single blooms and fall color, this is the bulb for you. These flowers make great cut flowers because of their large, unique bloom on a single, long stem. Ranging in colors from red to white to yellow, they make a gorgeous addition to your landscape.
Hurricane lily (Lycoris species) flowers arise from bulbs just like other members of the amaryllis family. The plant is also commonly referred to as spider lily and resurrection lily in addition to many other names, such as magic lily and naked lady, each a particular species.
Spider lilies prefer rich, well-drained and slightly alkaline soils. Plant the bulbs 12 inches apart with the pointed end up and their necks just above the soil surface in fall or early spring when bulbs are available. If bulbs are planted too deep, they may not flower. So don’t bury the top of the bulb. Each cluster of flowers lasts about two weeks or longer if they are protected from wind and sun. Each bulb can produce one to four flower stems, and bulbs do not typically all flower at once. With subsequent rain, sequential flowering occurs.
Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is a classic Southern garden plant. Red spider lilies have been cultivated since early recorded history in China, Korea and Nepal, making their way to Japan and then to the United States in the early 1800s. Since then, it has been naturalized and is now considered an heirloom plant in the southern U.S., where it is commonly passed on to fellow gardeners.
Red spider lily produces four to six orange-red flowers on long stamens that curl upward. Flowers emerge first, followed by foliage later in the fall with continued growth throughout the winter. This flower gets its name from the plants that have a narrow, strap-like petals with extremely long stamens that give the spider-like appearance. This variety does best in partial shade and does not tolerate direct sunlight. However, too much shade can prevent them from blooming.
This common variety does not produce seeds, helping it grow faster and resulting in large clumps of bulbs that can be divided every three to five years after leaves die back and bulbs go into dormancy in late spring or early summer.
White spider lily (Lycoris albiflora) has white flowers in clusters of six to eight blooms on 12-to-18-inch-tall stalks with long, curved stamens, making it an excellent cut flower. Leaves emerge in fall and die down in spring. It does not produce seeds.
Naked ladies (Lycoris squamigera) produce strap-like leaves in spring that disappear in summer. In fall, trumpet-shaped, purple-pink flowers bloom on 18-inch-tall stalks that pop out of the ground, making it another great cut flower specimen for the garden.
Golden spider lily (Lycoris aurea) produces yellow clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers on stems 18 to 24 or more inches tall, and leaves with a blue tint emerge in fall, growing up to 24 inches tall and producing a larger plant than the red spider lily.
Surprise lily (Lycoris haywardii) is one of the few spring-leafing hurricane lilies, and according to Gary Knox, professor of environmental horticulture and nursery crops at the University of Florida, it was first discovered in Winter Park, Florida, in a 1948 in a shipment of Chinese plants to Dr. Wyndham Hayward.
Surprise lily develops leaves in early spring that die down in early summer. The trumpet-shaped flowers are magenta-pink with bright blue tips at the ends of petals, and unlike other lilies, it blooms in July — earlier than other varieties.
Hurricane lilies are relatively resistant to diseases and pests. Deer and squirrels do not eat them because of the toxic chemicals they produce. In Japan, spider lilies are used as a planting around rice paddies and houses to keep pests and mice away. Keep this in mind if you have small children. The flowers draw in birds, bees and butterflies to drink the nectar.
Over the years, if you notice a decrease in blooms, you likely have an issue of overcrowding. Divide and separate bulbs every three or five years to keep them from crowding. Carefully dig bulb clumps in late spring or early summer when they are dormant after leaves have begun to fade.
Replant the bulbs in a new place or share them with friends and neighbors. Disturbed bulbs may not bloom in the next season because lilies do not like having their roots disturbed. Newly planted bulbs may not bloom in the first season.
Old homesteads in the Southeast may have hurricane lilies growing from old plantings. Bulbs may be challenging to find. Look for them in summer and fall in garden centers and nurseries.
Popping up year after year just after the heavy rains of hurricanes, these gorgeous flowers just might surprise you.
Spider lily flower. Photo by Frankie Gould/LSU AgCenter
Long, strappy leaves of spider lily. Photo by Frankie Gould/LSU AgCenter
Double spider lily. Photo by Frankie Gould/LSU AgCenter
Densely grown spider lilies with no flowers indicate the need to divide and reduce overcrowding. Photo by Frankie Gould/LSU AgCenter