Friday, July 1, 2022

Mangrove spiderlily: an impressive Florida native

The mangrove spiderlily (Hymenocallis latifolia

The flowers are impressive with orange pollen
and six strap-like tepals emanating from
 a central disk corolla.

The mangrove spiderlily is long-lived perennial in the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) and its native range is along coastal areas in Central and South Florida and in most of the Caribbean islands. There are 14 species of spiderlily (Hymenocallis spp.) native to Florida, but the mangrove spiderlily is the one that is most often available for sale in the native plant community.

It flowers from late spring through early fall, but in my experience, most of the flowering comes all at once at the beginning of summer. While it's also known as perfumed spiderlily, the ones in my yard have a very light scent. Like many white flowers, they are primarily pollinated by moths.

The genus name, Hymenocallis, is from the Greek hymen, meaning “membrane,” and callis, meaning “beautiful.” All of the species of this genus have a membrane or "cup" of fused petals and sepals at the base of the flower with six tepals that radiate almost horizontally from the cup. They are called tepals because the sepals and the petals have the same form--tulips in the lily family (Liliaceae) provide a good example of tepals. Flower scapes (or stems) may produce up to 15 flowers in a flower head, but only one or two open each day and then they wilt after a day. The fruits are large (up to ¾-inch in diameter) green ovoid capsules, but I don't recall ever seeing one on my spiderlilies.

The species epithet latifolia is Latin for “broad leaf” and indeed, the evergreen leaves that are from 1.5 to 3.5 inches wide is the identifying trait to differentiate this species from the other Hyenocallis species. The arching leaves are evergreen linear or strap like with entire margins or straight edges and can be more than 3 feet long. They emerge directly from the large bulbs--there is no central stem.

The flowers begin to wilt after just one day, but new flowers open each day. Native range map from the Atlas of Florida Plants.

Using spiderlilies in the landscape

The mangrove spiderlily is impressive in the landscape.

The mangrove spiderlilies are tough, drought-tolerant, and salt-tolerant. They also tolerate various soil types from sand to rich loam and alkaline to slightly acidic. Part of the reason for their durability is their large bulbs, which can be 5 or 6 inches in diameter.

The leaves are evergreen, so even when it's not blooming, an established bunch of mangrove spiderlilies with its shiny, dark green leaves makes a statement in your yard. I have them growing in three different locations for several years and the bunches have grown and multiplied so that the bunches are all about 3 X 5 feet wide and deep and 2 to 4 feet tall. Over the years, the bunches have grown wider and deeper, but not much taller. If the bunches get too large for their space, I could divide them.

The standard recommendation for amount of light is "full sun to partial shade," but the bunch I have next to the back of the garage is in almost full shade and this is the bunch that as grown the largest. The standard recommendation for soil moisture is not too wet and not too dry, but there's a wide variation between those extremes. The bunch shown in this photo is in a 4-foot-wide bed between the driveway and the fence around the heat pump unit and is in range of our irrigation system, but the bunch behind the garage is not covered by irrigation and I never water it. Technically, we are not in its native range, but two counties north. It's done very well for us anyway.

Where to use them in your landscape:

- as an understory plant in a grouping of trees and shrubs. 

- as a foundation plant. Unlike most shrubs used for foundation plantings, these won't need constant trimming.

- as part of a low hedgerow, or on the outside of a taller hedgerow.

- as part of an upland buffer along a shoreline. (This is its natural habitat as you could probably guess from its common name.)

- as part of a pollinator garden or wildflower meadow.

The eastern lubber grasshopper is attracted
to these spiderlilies, particularly the flowers.

Spiderlily pests

The eastern lubber grasshoppers (Romalea microptera) are attracted to this plant and will do great damage to the flowers, the scapes, and the leaves. In this photo, you can see the hole chewed through a flower bud. I hand pick them every day during blooming season to contain the damage. They are slow and easy to catch. I'm not squeamish, so I don't need any gloves or other preparations and the grasshoppers end up in the compost pile. Think of all those micronutrients. You could put them in a jar of soapy water, if you don't want to squish them.

I've never seen caterpillars or other herbivores including deer or rabbits eating these plants.

So, I hope you'll plant some of these tough but interesting spiderlilies on your property. Here is the link to the mangrove spiderlily plant profile on the Florida Native Plant Society website, which also includes a link to native nurseries that have it in stock, but any native nursery could order it for you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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