Lycoris Radiata: The Mystical Red Spider Lily

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Red spider lily Lycoris radiata has a bit of an ominous reputation. In Japan, it is believed to be a flower of the afterlife. They are planted at the tombs of ancestors, and believed to help guide a soul into their next incarnation.

Spooky stories abound. So too do the myriad of names it’s known by. Called red magic lily, corpse flower, resurrection lily, or equinox flower and more, it’s a stunning beauty. In the late summer or early autumn, it produces perfect blooms after a spell of heavy rainfall, earning it the name hurricane lily.

This special and vibrant flower may be tinged with lore, but it’s well worth its place in your garden. Let’s discuss these lovely plants and how to care for them!

Spider Lily Overview

Lycoris radiata
Lycoris radiata can grow in full sun or partial shade. Source: okuryu
Common Name(s): Red spider lily, equinox flower, corpse flower, resurrection lily
Scientific NameLycoris radiata
Family:Amaryllidaceae
Zone:6-10
Height & Spread:1-2′ tall, 1-1.5′ wide
LightFull sun, will tolerate partial shade
SoilWell-draining, organic-rich
Water:Moderate watering in season, minimal during summer
Pests & Diseases:No major pests or diseases

All About The Equinox Flower

Red magic lily
Sometimes called magic lily, it looks like a firework burst. Source: monetmama

Originating in eastern Asia, lycoris radiata was introduced early to Japan. From there, it spread to the rest of the world.

In Japan, the flowers were planted around the exterior of rice paddies or homes to keep mice at bay. The bulbs are poisonous, and the pests wouldn’t encroach because of the danger.

This perennial red spider lily sends up flowers before its leaves fully unfurl. During its bloom time, long flower stalks appear first. These produce umbels of 4-6 flowers, each one about 2″ across. Their long stamens are visually reminiscent of spider legs, giving the plants their spidery name.

Once in full flower, the bloom time itself lasts for about two weeks. The flower color shifts over time, changing from deep red to a lighter pink hue. As flowering subsides, the plant leafs out to begin soaking up the sunlight. It remains green and leafy throughout the winter, fading in the spring once they’ve stored enough energy to keep the bulb alive through summer.

Lycoris Radiata Care

Side view of equinox flower
From the side, the length of the stamens is very apparent. Source: houroumono

Left undisturbed, your red spider lily will grow very well. Like most bulbing plants, it doesn’t like being moved, so choose your planting location carefully! It will come back every year if it’s left to its own devices.

There are some tips which can get you bright, spider lily red blooms every late summer, though. Let’s go over what will help your plants to thrive.

Light & Temperature

The lycoris genus in general is made up of full sun plants. This one is much the same, preferring at least six hours of direct sunlight for best flowering. It can tolerate partial shade, but still needs bright indirect light to bloom.

Tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, your red spider lily will perform in zones 6-10. Those in colder areas should provide protection for their plants through the winter. The leaves should be protected from freezing conditions.

When planting, make sure the neck of the bulb is above the soil’s surface. It won’t flower properly if it’s completely buried.

Water & Humidity

Moderate moisture during the growing season is essential for your lycoris radiata. When it is dormant during the summer months, the drier soil conditions will protect the bulb from rot conditions that can happen in warm soil.

Overwatering is still a concern. As the red spider lily puts down deep roots, it has access to a lot of deeper water reserves in the soil. Check the soil moisture before watering heavily.

It’s believed that lycoris radiata won’t begin to flower until after the first good rain in fall. Home gardeners can simulate that by watering lightly once the weather starts to change.

Soil

Soils should be well-draining and rich in organic materials like worm castings or compost. Soil pH is not a huge concern for these garden plants.

If growing in a container, it’s important to have a deep container. The root system for lycoris is extensive, and it can rapidly fill a smaller pot. If the roots are too confined, it will not flower well.

Fertilizer

Higanbana flower
Called “higanbana” in Japan, the red spider lily is very showy. Source: keroyama

Fertilize twice a year. In the early spring, a high-nitrogen fertilizer allows the plant to store away nutrients to regrow after the summer dormancy. A post-flowering fall fertilizing is also good, but switch to a high potassium and phosphorous fertilizer. This strengthens the bulb and prepares it for winter conditions.

Repotting

Once planted in a garden bed or container, your spider lilies don’t like to be disturbed. Select a larger, deeper pot to begin with so that you don’t have to move it, or plant it in a permanent garden bed.

If you do have to move yours for any reason, it will likely flower poorly during the next blooming season.

Propagation

Red spider lily propagates through offsets. Over time, they will form dense colonies. You can carefully remove and replant these offsets, but be aware it may affect the next bloom time.

Pruning

Other than removing spent flower stalks once the leaves form, your lycoris radiata is low-maintenance. No pruning is necessary.

Troubleshooting

Red spider lily
The petals form a network from which extremely long stamens protrude. Source: houroumono

Not only are spider lilies easy to care for in the garden, but they’re the perfect fall flower!

Growing Problems

Container-grown red spider lily plants need a deep container, and one which is wider than expected. If they don’t have room for their roots to stretch out, they may skip past flowering. Provide the perfect pot for them by picking one that’s larger than average.

Pests

Pests do not typically bother your lycoris radiata plants. They do attract pollinators, though!

Diseases

The red spider lily is virtually disease-free! If overwatered during the hot summer months, it may be subject to bulb rot. Otherwise, little troubles this plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

Red spider lily stems
Lycoris radiata flowers form at the top of extremely long stems. Source: Bahamutzero

Q.  Is my spider lily plant poisonous?

A. Yes, their bulbs are considered toxic. In humans they can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, excessive salivation, and diarrhea.

Q. When will my red spider lily bloom?

A. Red spider lilies bloom in the very late summer or early fall.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Clarisa Teodoro

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

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