Saturday, August 30, 2014
Golden Spider Lily (Crinum xanthophyllum)
Our little beach community on Oahu is one of the few places you will find Golden Spider Lily growing in Hawaii. That is because a few lily bulbs were brought here around four decades ago by a new resident moving from a South Pacific island and those bulbs have greatly multiplied around town now....including three clumps in my garden. You do see lots of green and purple leaf Spider Lilies in Hawaii but you have to hunt to find the yellow leaf ones. I should note here too, for people living on the mainland US, that there is another plant on the mainland that also gets called a Spider Lily. You may need to compare photos of the two types. In my mind I always associate Golden Spider Lily with South Pacific islands like Tonga, Samoa or Rarotonga where they are growing in almost every garden. It was a bit of a mind shift when I saw them growing at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Was it native to Asia or the Pacific? Research on the internet tells me it is from Melanesia, so I expect that means Papua New Guinea which is the origin of so many useful tropical plants.
I am a big fan of Golden Spider Lily because it is so easy to grow and will survive tough conditions like our sandy soil. It is also a perennial patch of bright color that I can place around the garden. I have one in a container that does very well. One home in our town has a dramatic display of them lined up along the roadside against a rock wall.
The Golden Spider Lily will grow 3-5 feet in height with leaves growing 2-4 feet long. The plant needs to be in the sun to turn bright yellow.....and no....the yellow leaves do not mean it has a nitrogen deficiency.( That was my first thought when I saw it for the first time many years ago in Tonga.) It is a clump forming plant with lots of babies growing out from the side of the stem for you to share. Just cut off one of the babies with a bit of root attached and plant it in soil.
This lily usually flowers around August in Hawaii. It has large fragrant white flowers but the petals are a bit floppy so it is not so good for flower arrangements or to tuck in your hair. The long yellow leaves can be used in flower arrangements and also used in Tongan style leis. I have never seen fruit grow on it. The Golden Spider Lily likes well drained soil and average water amounts. It it does not get enough water it gets little rust colored bruise spots in the leaves. Funny enough, when I first saw these I thought it was a rust colored fungus growing because I was over watering them. They look a lot happier these days after a horticulture teacher explained the true reason to me.!
PS November, 2016
Have just come back from a trip to Cambodia. I am putting up a photo here taken at the visitors entrance to the Royal Palace grounds at Phnom Penh. Look at this beautiful use of Golden Spider Lily. They had used yellow foliage and flowers throughout the palace gardens, I expect because yellow is the Buddhist color.