Mangrove spider lily, Hymenocallis latifolia, has the distinction of putting out the most flowers of any member of its genus native to Florida. It's also tough and adaptable, able to shrug off conditions that would kill many other plants. Combine the two qualities and you have the makings of a landscaping favorite.
Which is what mangrove spider lily is. Its use is so widespread that experts on the subject say it's become difficult to determine its native range.
Some spider lily basics: all species grow from a large, onion-like bulb from which two ranks of long, fleshy, strap-like leaves emerge. The plant produces a leafless stalk called a scape from which flowers will bloom. The number of flowers on the scape is one key identifier of individual species, especially among those found in the wilds of South Florida.
In the case of the mangrove spider lily, there will be as many as 15 flowers per scape, or as few as nine. That's the most of the 13 spider lily species native to Florida. By contrast that alligator spider lily, probably the most common spider lily in South Florida, will produce only one flower per scape. The Florida spider lily, a rarer species, generally will have two. There are about 40 species of spider lilies in the New World
At the center of each flower is a large, delicate looking membrane called a staminal cup. It's really the signature feature of the genus. The swamp lily has a similiar look, but it lacks the staminal cup. Spider lilies also have six long, narrow extensions called tepals (petals and stepals). Some Spider lilies also have underground stems called rhizomes that help the plant spread out and form clumps. The mangrove spider lily does not, however.
It forms "bulblets" instead. These bulblets grow into full-size bulbs, helping the original plant to form a clump of spider lilies. Mangrove spider lily also has long, leathery, strap-like leaves that emerge from the bulb in two ranks. Think of the leaves emerging from an onion. A full-grown mangrove spider lily can be two or three feet tall. Below the flower is an ovary, where seed are formed. Two other unique features: its leaves are one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half inches across, the widest of any native spider lilies. It's also the only spider lily with orange pollen instead of yellow.
Favorite habitats include coast dunes and ridges, the edges of hammocks and high spots within mangrove forests. It will grow in full sun or partial shade. The extent of its native range is a bit of a question mark. The Institute for Regional Conservation in Delray Beach say its found throughout parts of the southeastern United States, including Texas. The United State Department of Agriculture's PLANTS Database limits it to Florida. Experts differ as to its native range within the state. Generally, it's found in coastal counties from Volusia (maybe) south to the Keys, and in parts of the West Coast from Pinellas south. It is drought-tolerant, but it also can stand wet conditions. It's also moderately salt tolerant. About the only thing it can't handle is cold weather. It is a long-lived perennial.
Other common names and spellings: perfumed spider lily and spiderlily. It is a member of Amaryllidaceae, the lily family.