"Spidery plants"

Meet some plants that have a 'spidery' look.
Sunday, 06 April 2014     

Spiderettes on Chlorophytum comosum

I seem to be obsessed with garden creatures at the moment but instead of writing about spiders in the garden, I have decided to talk about spidery plants: those that have 'spider' in their common name. Once I started thinking about it, there were quite a few of them! Flowers seem to be given this epithet because of having long, thin stamens like a daddy-long-legs spider, or because their petals are elongated and narrow. In some cases, it is the overall arachnid shape of the plant that gives it this name. I find something mesmerising in such plants that mimic the distinctive form of these creatures, a number of which are helpful in our gardens because they eat pest insects. I am always on the lookout for flowers and plants with an unusual shape to add interest to more traditional plantings.

In fact, the very first plant I was ever really aware of is one usually called the 'spider plant': Chlorophytum comosum (ht 30-40 cm, pictured above). It grew out of a teapot in the kitchen of the share house I lived in as a uni student. It has a rosette of long thin leaves (variegated in some species) that I suppose do look a bit like spider legs. The plant sends out little 'pups' with tiny roots, held on long, thin stems from the mother plant, and these really do look like baby spiders hanging from a silken thread. These plantlets are apparently even called 'spiderettes'! I was astounded in 1977 when told by my flatmate who owned the plant that it was possible to propagate it by detaching these pups and planting them in the ground or in a pot. It is probably one of the easiest plants in the world to grow as it survives in dry, shaded areas where other plants struggle, or it can be used as an indoor plant. I grow a cultivar of it known as 'Ocean' (ht 30-40 cm), with crisp white and green stripy leaves, which lighten up a dull area of my garden.

For many years, I have grown the tall summer annual Cleome hassleriana in a sunny border - it is often called 'spider flower' because of its long, whiskery stamens on pink or white blooms, which added a flamboyant touch to my more traditional plants. In recent times, however, I have grown tired of it and have now developed a fondness for a Cleome hydrid called 'Senorita Rosalita' (pictured), which is a more bushy version and is perennial in the Sydney climate. It grows to around 1 m tall and has pretty pink flowers over a lengthy period. It likes a sunny, dryish position. Though not as dramatic as its taller cousin, it is not sticky, has no thorns, and does not self-seed. There is also a nice white form (with a pink tinge to the buds and dark stamens) called 'Senorita Blanca'.

Late summer and early autumn see the blooming of the so-called 'spider lilies' - Lycoris species (ht 40-60 cm), from China and Japan - the most commonly grown being the golden yellow one (Lycoris aurea, pictured) and bright red species (Lycoris radiata). They both have narrow ruffled petals and protruding whiskery stamens, and appear on leafless stems in February or March; they do look very spidery. I find them unpredictable - some years they flower well and others they don't. It is exciting when they do appear from nowhere with their exotic inflorescences. Some people recommend they are grown in a hot, dry position with the top of the bulb exposed; others regard them as woodland plants, best grown in semi-shade with morning sun, with their necks buried. I'm still not sure which is the best way!

In summer, another 'spider lily' is in flower in my garden: a Hymenocallis species, possibly Hymenocallis littoralis (ht 75cm) or Hymenocallis caribaea (ht 80cm), with stout stems of large, scented, crisp white flowers: with long thin petals around a daffodil-like cup and prominent, quivering stamens. They form thick clumps, and though mine are grown in full sun, they apparently will also do quite well in shade and can also thrive in either very boggy soil or well-drained spots. I have seen them growing in the sandy soil of a seaside garden. They can be grown in pots. In short, they are most adaptable plants!

Amongst daylilies (Hemerocallis cultivars), there are what are known as the 'spider' forms, with really elegant, narrow petals rather than the very full, wide-petalled types that are most often seen. These spider ones are my favourites amongst the daylilies that I grow, such as ever-flowering 'Lime-painted Lady' with gorgeous lime-yellow blooms and 'Black Plush' (pictured), with purple-black petals and a bright yellow centre (ht 50-70 cm). They seem to mingle better with other flowers than the bigger daylily blooms.

Australian native plants with a spidery look include many of the Grevillea species, some of which have been given the common name of spider flowers, such as the red spider flower (G. speciosa), the pink (G. sericea), the grey (G. buxifolia) and the green (G. mucronulata). With their profusion of blooms, the shrubs look as if they are covered with spiders!

One can only wonder at how or why plants developed this characteristic shape. Whatever the reasons, such plants add variety of form to gardens - as long as you don't hate spiders!

 Reader Comments

1/11  Ren - 2112 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 06 April 2014

Your blog was recommended today when I visited Paradisus and met Peter Nixon and Ian Percy of Florez. I have recently moved from Victoria to Sydney and need help comprehending climate, soil and the palate of plants that thrive here. Your website is enlightening....many thanks... Your blog today of all plants spidery brings back memories of my past gardens in Victoria and I would like to add Spider Chrysanthemums to the list.....these are exquisite...will they grow in Sydney? Thanks, Ren. See comment by Margaret below about the spider chrysanthemums. Hope you can find some. To find out more about gardening in Sydney, visit open gardens and the Botanic Garden, and walk around your neighbourhood to see what is growing. The main difference I see in climate to Victoria is our much more humid summers (which are not great for the English-style perennials) and our milder winters (not great for cool-climate bulbs, shrubs and trees). But there are many wonderful plants that DO thrive in Sydney so good luck with your new gardening adventure. Deirdre

2/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 April 2014

Chlorophytum was one of the first plants I grew, and still have its descendants in the garden. Am fond of cleomes, but the thorns are a deterrent, so C. "Senorita Rosalita" is more friendly, and flowers for a long period. I have found Lycoris shy to flower, but when it does, wow! I have two varieties of Hymenocallis, one with a cup/"spider"petals, the other, without the cup, but can"t detect a perfume. In answer to Ren, spider chrysanths do grow in Sydney, but are not easy to find. Thanks, Margaret. I wish I could find out the secret to getting the Lycoris to flower more reliably! Deirdre

3/11  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 07 April 2014

Interesting topic Deirdre. I must say that Chlorophytum is quite a nuisance here in spite of my love of variegated plants! I have a really interesting Japanese Spider Azalea worth seeking out. There"s an image of it posted on my facebook timeline for those facebook devotees.(Town and Country Gardens, Bilpin). I"ve had it for nearly 30 years and it gives me endless pleasure. See you next weekend at the Collectors" Plant Fair. Cheers, Peta Thanks, Peta. I would not recommend the Chlorophytum for anywhere except a dry, shady area where nothing else will grow; but I still have an affection for the plant that introduced me to gardening all those years ago! Looking forward to the fair. Deirdre

4/11  Kathryn - 2069 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 April 2014

I could relate to your comments about the unpredictability of Lycoris in Sydney. I hadn"t seen my golden Lycoris for years and in late February this year - boom! Two gorgeous huge flower heads. The magic and mystery of gardening . . .

5/11  Robin - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 April 2014

Unusual blog, Deirdre but informative as always. I am dividing Hymenocallis plants at present if anyone local wants some. Also have a few "Ocean" babies.I keep this plant contained. Daylilies are good value and I am fond of them but unfortunately cannot grow grevilleas in the soil here. Thanks, Robin. I am not able to grow grevilleas or similar natives here either because my soil is heavy clay. Thanks for your offer of the Hymenocallis - your mention of it the other day inspired the blog! Deirdre

6/11  Helen - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 April 2014

Thanks for your interesting blog Deirdre. I"ve enjoyed it for at least two years but never felt compelled to write anything as I"ve got a native block and don"t have many introduced plants. However I was pleased that you mentioned in your "spidery plants", the Australian native Grevilleas, that I have growing naturally on my block, specifically the grey, red and green Grevilleas. These are a source of joy for me although they are slowly dying out because of the lack of fire on our block. Thanks, Helen. I hope that your grevilleas will keep going. They are delightful flowers. Deirdre

7/11  Chris - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 07 April 2014

Always love reading your blog. The white Spider Lily, here in Brisbane, is used to line the footpaths and verges in our local shopping area, and they are lovely when they flower and quite hardy. The striped spider plant that I grow appears to have thinner leaves. They look lovely hanging over a raised garden bed. I purchased the yellow Lycoris lily when I was at Toowoomba, and it has not flowered here in my garden. We have had some rain and I my plants are responding well. Glad you have had rain, Chris. Yes I imagine that the white spider lily would flourish in Qld. I find it clumps up very quickly. In fact I started with one plant and it expanded into at least 50 over the years! Deirdre

8/11  Steve - 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 April 2014

My two most spidery plants are the wonderful batplant,Tacca chantrieri, and the spider orchid Brassia rex, so spider like that they are scary. They sound amazing, Steve!! Deirdre

9/11  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Wednesday, 09 April 2014

Does Sprekelia (jacobean lily) count as a spidery plant? Although my mum grew them successfully here in Brisbane, I am a dud at getting them to bloom. They are in a pot in a sunny spot in summer and bright light in winter. What am I doing wrong? What right things should I do? Any suggestions greatly appreciated.(I have some spider lilies too - and they seem to do all right - not brilliant - but all right!) I too struggle with sprekelia, though a friend in the next suburb grows them brilliantly! Theoretically, they want full sun, well-drained soil and the neck being uncovered. I only get the occasional flower. I hope to find out the secret one day. Deirdre

10/11  John - 6055 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Thursday, 10 April 2014

What a beaut theme. I am now better equipped to share design ideas with my customers based on using these inflorescences. Thank you for this lovely blog. Cheers. John. Thanks for your kind feedback, John. Deirdre

11/11  Robyn - 3875 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Thursday, 10 April 2014

I visited a friend who has a wonderful specimen of the amazing kapok tree. The spidery flowers are way up at the top of the tree but you can see them up close as they fall onto the ground. This must be one of the weirdest trees on the planet! That sounds fascinating, Robyn! Have never seen that tree. Deirdre

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