Red Spider Lily Plant Profile

Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata)
Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata)

DigiPub / Getty Images

When many other plants are slowly shutting down for winter, the red spider lily is just getting started. After its summer dormancy, this member of the amaryllis family sends up tall flower stalks with umbels of bright red flowers. They last for about two weeks and gradually fade to a lighter pinkish hue.

The plant has different names, each describing a special feature. The flowers appear before the evergreen leaves unfurl, hence the name “naked lily”. The name “spider lily” comes from the stamens of the flowers that resemble spider legs. And in Florida, the bloom coincides with hurricane season, earning it the name “hurricane flower”.

Although it is a native of Asia, the red spider lily has adapted and become naturalized in the southeastern United States. It is a fast and vigorous spreader and a good choice to interplant with annuals and perennials in spots where you want a vibrant splash of color in the late summer and early fall.

Botanical Name Lycoris radiata
Common Name Red spider lily, naked lily, hurricane lily
Plant Type Perennial flower
Mature Size One to two feet height, one to 1.5 feet width
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained, sandy, loamy
Soil pH 6 to 7.5
Bloom Time Late summer, early fall
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 6-10
Native Area  Southeastern China and southern Japan
Toxicity Toxic if consumed
Red spider lily sends up tall flower talks before forming leaves
Red spider lily sends up tall flower talks before forming leaves  I love Photo and Apple. / Getty Images

Red Spider Lily Care

When selecting a location for red spider lilies, make sure it will be permanent because the plants do not like to be moved.

Plant the bulbs with the neck above the ground level. Fully burying it in the ground will affect the plant’s ability to flower. 

Otherwise, red spider lily is a care-free plant with no serious disease problems.

Light

Red spider lilies can grow in full sun to part shade. For best flowering, however, part shade is best. Also, in a partially shady location, it tends to bloom earlier than in full sun.

Soil

Plant your red spider lily in soil that is rich in organic matter and well-drained.

Water

During the summer when the plant is dormant, the red spider lily does best in dry soil. With its deep roots, it can tap into water reserves deep in the soil. Overwatering during the summer can lead to bulb rot.

Once the growing season has begun—which you can tell from the buds forming—the soil should be kept medium moist. In the absence of rain, water the plant as needed.

Temperature and Humidity

After its bloom, the red spider lily develops new leaves which are evergreen and persist throughout the winter until they die back in the spring. In zone 6 and 7, it is necessary to protect the leaves and exposed bulbs from winter freezes with a layer of mulch.

Fertilizer

In the spring, add a high-nitrogen fertilizer, which will provide the plant with the nutrients it needs for its late summer and fall growth. After the bloom, add a fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphorus to encourage root growth and improve winter hardiness.

Is the Red Spider Lily Toxic?

The bulbs of the red spider lily are toxic. If ingested, they cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The upside of this is that deer, rabbits, and other critters will leave the plant alone.

Varieties of Red Spider Lily

Lycoris radiata var. radiata is sterile and thus does not form seeds so it can spend all its energy blooming and producing bulbs, by which it spreads fast and vigorously. It is the most suitable for naturalizing.

Lycoris radiata var. pumila is a smaller, less common variety that reproduces by seeds.

Propagating Red Spider Lilies

When spider lilies have developed large clumps or outgrown their space you can carefully divide them and replant the bulbs in other locations. Do this in the summer when the plants are dormant. Depending on how many roots the bulbs have, they do not bloom the same year or the next until they are fully established.

Growing in Containers

If your local winter is too cold for red spider lilies in a perennial flower bed, you can grow them in containers, but they must be very large and deep to allow for the expansive root growth. The plants won’t bloom if the container is too small.