Friday, August 6, 2010

Not of the Chesapeake: Carolina Spiderlily

Meet Hymenocallis caroliniana, the Carolina Spiderlily
In July 2008, a Ducks Unlimited coworker sent me a (blurry) picture of a very curious looking flower. The flower, well, hundreds of them, had apparently washed ashore at an old duck hunting club in Arkansas during a spring flood, and then sprouted all over the property's wetlands. Neither he or I had ever seen a plant quite like it. The only clues we could muster were 1) that the plant's thick stems and basal leaves looked an awful lot like an Amaryllis, and 2) Dave's (coworker's) mother said it reminded her of the "spider plants" that lived in the swamps near her childhood farm in Florida.
After a few days of sporadically searching the internet for clues about aggressive amaryllis species with this crazy looking bloom, I found out about a lesser known group within the former Amaryllis family (the family has now been included within the extremely large and diverse Lily family) - the three genera of Spiderlilies. These realizations (Amarylis + Lily) made it instantly clear - we had a spider lily. But which one? USDA lists 17 species native to the Southeastern United States and the Carribean!


From Dave's original pictures, it was impossible to tell which species we might have on our hands. However, he sent me about a dozen bulbs in Spring 2009, which I diligently cared for all year (and kept inside over the winter). Finally, in August 2010, I finally have some blooms! Frankly, I was shocked about this development, since I have largely ignored these plants this year, and the weather has been brutally hot on our native plant garden, resulting in massive dieoffs of much more valuable plants (sorry, spiderlily!). But they lived (somehow), neglected in the shade in large terracotta pots! So what species are they?

First, since the plants washed up in Arkansas, I figured we could reasonably eliminate several Carribean species (3) and those known to live only in Florida (5). That left 9 species. Based on the plant size (of my plants - a dubious assumption) and known occurrence in Arkansas, we were left with two species - the Spring Spiderlily and the Carolina Spiderlily. Figuring out the species came down to a very basic premise - period of bloom (April for the Spring Spiderlily, July for the Carolina Spiderlily).

I tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to grow the Red Spiderlily - which is not native to North America. It's a bit showier than the native species, and perhaps I'll give it another try next year!


biobabbler said...

wow--what an amazing looking plant!

Kirk Mantay said...

I know! Hard to believe it's a native plant.

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