Hymenocallis littoralis

spider lily


Hymenocallis littoralis

(Jacq.) Salisb. 1812

pronounced: hy-men-oh-KALL-iss lit-or-AH-liss

(Amaryllidaceae — the amaryllis family)


common name: spider lily

Spider Lily is the common name for a number of different plant species within the Amaryllidaceae family, that belong to one of the genera Crinum, Hymenocallis, or Lycoris. This is the problem with common names, that often several plants have the same common name, and there is also the problem of plants having different common names in different countries. This is why we need botanical names, as there is only one botanical name for each plant. At least, that is the theory – the botanical pundits keep on changing them!

Hymenocallis comes from two Greek words, 'υμην (hymen), a membrane, and καλλος (kallos), beauty – a beautiful membrane. Littoralis means ‘of the sea shore’. This lily is a native of the coastal regions of Latin America. It is widely cultivated, and naturalized, in many tropical countries. This is the spider lily that graces the Picnic Bay Mall, and is used in many street plantings in Townsville.

This is a vigorous bulbous perennial herb, with narrow dark green strap-like fleshy leaves, 50 - 100 cm long, and up to 6 or 7 cm wide. It ranges in height from 60 - 70 cm. The bulb is 7-10 cm in diameter.

The flowers are large white, faintly vanilla-scented, and sessile. They have extremely long, narrow, hanging petals with a central membranous cup stretched between the stamens. The perianth is white, the tube about 11 cm long, the corona infundibuliform, long with narrow lobes to 11 cm in length, and the filaments of the stamen up to 13 cm long. The biggest flush of flowers appears at the beginning of the rainy season, and there are up to 8 flowers on each flower stalk. It grows best in full sun to part shade in soil that has been enriched with organic matter and drains well, but it will also tolerate poorer conditions. It is a very tough and undemanding plant that will tolerate coastal sites. The plants look well planted in drifts, alongside driveways or paths, in tubs, or in garden beds. In cooler climates they may lose their leaves in winter.

The fact that the stigma is so small, on such a long style, and constantly moving even in a light breeze, and some distance away from the stamens, also waving around in the breeze at the end of their long filaments, makes me wonder how on earth the flower is pollinated, unless it is wind-pollinated. My research has not come up with any information on this. I had thought the question to be academic with our spider lilies, as they appeared to be sterile; but they have recently confounded me by fruiting for the first time since I have been observing them.

In the Philippines, extracts from the bulbs are used for healing wounds. There is a curious use in Lao. A solution of the roots boiled in water is used to treat testicles that have become too low through excessive running! A mixture of oil and crushed bulbs is also used to treat freckles and skin blemishes.

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.



Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2007-2016
Page last updated 16th January 2019