Red Spider Lily (Lycoris) Facts And Symbolism

One flower which is certain to stop you in your tracks is the red spider lily, for its spider-like petals and whimsical anthers, appearing at the very top of a long, robust stem. 

As this plant is so unusual, it may not come as a surprise to learn that there’s a lot of symbolism behind the flowers, too.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About The Red Spider Lily

Lycoris, or the red spider lily consists of around 20 different species of perennials within the amaryllis plant family. For the most part, these hail from China and Japan.

The flowers themselves come in numerous colors, including white, red, orange, and yellow. They’re grown across the world for their beauty, and have become naturalized in warm parts of the world.

In the US, you may know them as hurricane flowers, not only for their unusual appearance but also because they bloom at the peak of the hurricane season. 

Much like some plants in the amaryllis family, the spider lily does not produce foliage on the flowering stems, only adding to the unique appearance of the plant. 

The spider lily is poisonous if ingested, like a lot of plants from this family, so be careful that no children or pets have the chance to eat it, as it can be deadly.

Behind The Name: What Does Lycoris Mean?

The plant genus, Lycoris, takes its name from the famous actress in Ancient Rome, Volumnia Cytheris. 

She was very popular in Ancient Rome, originally a slave who was freed. Her stage name was Cytheris, which comes from the name Cythera, another name for Aphrodite.

She’s probably best known for having relationships with Mark Antony and Brutus. When she rejected Cornelius Gallus, he immortalized her in his work, calling her Lycoris.

The common name, spider lily, comes from the appearance of the flowers, which often have long, tendril-like petals, and large anthers.

The Symbolism Behind The Red Spider Lily

What the spider lily flower symbolizes could come as a complete surprise. They usually signify death and reincarnation.

This is mostly because these flowers are regularly found in bloom in close proximity to cemeteries, just around the time of the autumn equinox.

Within the Lotus Sutra, which is one of the most famous Buddhist sutra scriptures, these beautiful flowers are described as ominous, growing in Hell, in order to guide those who have died on to their next life.

Another reason for the connection to death and reincarnation is the way the plant behaves. The leaves are never on the plant at the same time the flowers are.

When the leaves die back, the flowers bloom, and vice versa. 

They are frequently included in funeral decorations, as well as temples and cemeteries in Japan, as there is a legend that if someone sees another where spider lilies are in bloom, they may never see them again.

In China, there is a legend of two elves concerning the flower, Saka, and Mañju. Both were tasked with guarding the plant, Saka to guard the leaves, and Mañju to protect the flowers.

They were supposed to do this alone, but they got so curious that they couldn’t help but meet, and instantly fell in love.

As punishment, God separated them by vowing that the flowers would never see the leaves, and so they would be unable to meet again.

As a result, some people refer to the spider lily as “Mañjusaka”.

Final Thoughts

Spider lilies are definitely worth considering when looking for unique plants to add drama and interest in your garden.

It helps that they are easy to grow, and don’t require much maintenance, but the unique legends and symbolism surrounding this flower add a whole new dimension entirely.

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