How to Plant & Grow Texas Spider Lily (Hymenocallis liriosme)

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Spider lily flower with green eye and anthers
Spider lilies have incredibly unique flowers, with highly visible, pollen-filled anthers and a yellow-green “eye” that distinguishes them from similar species.

Also known as spider lily, spring spider lily, and western marsh spider lily, Hymenocallis liriosme is an herbaceous perennial that most often grows in wet ditches, wetlands, and along the edges of streams, ponds, and the like.

Like many other lily-like species, such as bog lily, H. liriosme belongs to the family Amaryllidaceae, also known as the amaryllis family. They can look similar to other Hymenocallis species, but are easily distinguishable by the presence of a yellow-green “eye” in the center of each flower.

There has been a great deal of contention amongst botanists over the last 200 years as to whether Amaryllidaceae and Liliaceae should actually be separate families, with that debate still continuing today. However, current taxonomy separates them based on the different location of their ovaries (true lilies have a superior ovary – that is, one that exists above the sepal leaves – while false lilies, like the spider lily, have inferior ovaries that are found below the sepal leaves).

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Texas Spider Lily

malachite butterfly spider lily garden pond
Pollinators, like the malachite butterfly, are drawn to spider lilies. Anne Toal from US / CC BY

Native to the southern United States, spider lilies are a boon to many wildlife species. Pollinating bird species, like hummingbirds, as well as bees and butterflies rely on their pollen and sweet nectar.

Their bulbous roots aid in stabilizing water banks and reducing erosion, and also provide valuable habitat for beneficial macroinvertebrates. These macroinvertebrates in turn provide food for fish and waterfowl.

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Texas Spider Lily Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Perennial
USDA 8 – 10
Full sun to partial shade
May – October (Spring to Fall)
Height 90 – 120 cm (36 – 48 in)
Enough to just barely cover the bulb
pH 6.5 – 7.5

Texas Spider Lily Growth, Hardiness & Climate

spider lily growth and hardiness
H. liriosme produces sweet-smelling flowers that bloom from mid spring to early fall.

Spider lilies take about three to four months to germinate from bulb to flowering adult, typically reaching a height somewhere between two and three feet with a spread of around a foot or less. Depending on where you live, their showy, sweetly scented white flowers bloom for around half of the year, from mid spring to early fall.

They do best in USDA zones 8 and above, though they can tolerate below that so long as they’re brought indoors for the winter. Full sun or partial shade suites them just fine, though they’ll tend to produce more flowers and have more vibrant leaves in full sunlight, so long as they have ample access to water.

How to Plant Texas Spider Lily In Ponds

Spider lilies with white flowers growing on the edge of a pond
Spider lilies should not be planted in water until they are established and mature. Otherwise, the bulbs may rot.

Spider lily bulbs should be planted deep enough to only lightly cover the bulbs with soil. They’ll also do well with not being quite entirely covered. Planted too deep or in soil packed too heavily over the bulb, and it may sprout but never flower. Plant in early spring as soon as there is no risk of frost, as germination normally takes around 3 months. The soil should be kept moist; spider lilies can grow either in damp soil on the edges of ponds or in up to two inches of water. However, they should not be in standing water until they are mature, otherwise the bulbs may rot.

Planting baskets or pots aren’t necessary, as these plants don’t tend to spread out of control. However, if you live in a region that experiences true winters (as in, the ground freezes), you may want to plant spider lilies in pots just so that you can easily bring them inside for the winter and back outside during the warmer spring and summer months. Large pots, around 3 gallons, should provide them with ample space to grow. Any fertile soil that is able to retain moisture yet is well-draining is best for spider lilies.

How to Care For Texas Spider Lily

how to care for spider lilies
Eric Hunt / CC BY-SA

The soil around spider lilies should be kept moist, but there should be no standing water until the plant is established and sprouted, else the bulb may rot. If you’d like, you can feed them with a high-nitrogen fertilizer to encourage more flowers. However, be aware that any type of fertilizer used near your pond may alter water quality.

If the bulbs are dormant and not sprouting, do not water them! Spider lily bulbs are incredibly prone to bulb rot, which is also why these plants should not be planted in water unless they’re mature. Even so, planting in moist rather than saturated soil is still best. You can place mulch around spider lilies to help retain moisture longer so that you don’t have to water as often and risk promoting bulb rot.

Pruning is not necessary for spider lilies. In the fall, spider lily leaves will turn yellow and wilt. It’s very important that you allow them to do this, even if it doesn’t look appealing; trimming the leaves before they’re allowed to fully die will result in the plant wasting much needed energy and thus impact its ability to bloom the following season. Once flowers die, clip them off immediately to encourage new flowers to blossom more quickly.

As always, clean any dropped or trimmed foliage from the pond to promote healthy water quality.

How to Winter Texas Spider Lily

Spider lilies are drought tolerant and, once well established, moisture tolerant, but they are not remotely tolerant of cold weather. If you live in an area with winters that involve snow, or even just frost, you’ll need to bring H. liriosme indoors so that the bulbs don’t die. The easiest way to do this is to plant them in pots so that you can easily transfer them indoors and outdoors as needed or desired.

Is Spider Lily Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

All parts of spider lily are toxic, containing the toxic alkaloid lycorine. If ingested, lycorine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. As such, make sure to clean any dropped or trimmed foliage out of the pond right away with a net.

Texas spider lily is, as its name implies, native to the very southernmost portions of the United States. If you live in the U.S. and are in south-eastern or mid-eastern states, consider planting Hymenocallis caroliniana, which is native from as far south as Florida to as far north as Illinois.

Hymenocallis is a genus known largely and primarily in the New World. Research conducted on native species in the United Kingdom yielded no results. There is also little information on the perceived invasiveness of spider lilies, or the Hymenocallis genus as a whole, for that matter. They are quite popular around the world, and while we always encourage obtaining plants that are native to your area, spider lilies are not prolific growers and don’t seem to be considered invasive. Do be careful regardless, if you live outside of this plant’s native range, and keep them out of natural areas.

Is Texas Spider Lily Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

Spider lilies are not only inedible, they are also quite toxic. All parts of Hymenocallis liriosme are toxic – flowers, roots, leaves, and bulbs. If planted in water, your fish are unlikely to show much interest in these plants. Nonetheless, keep any dropped foliage cleaned out of your pond.

Where to Buy Texas Spider Lily & Seeds? (UK & US)

Some plant nurseries may sell spider lily, though it’s likely to be the moderately invasive red spider lily. While certainly beautiful, red spider lily is native to China and Korea and is somewhat more aggressive than other spider lily varieties, making it a potential invasive concern if planted elsewhere.

Texas spider lily is most easily obtained via online retailers. Be sure to search specifically for Hymenocallis liriosme, as searching just for “spider lily” will result in a broad range of plants that may not be what you’re looking for.

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