Cool autumn mornings will eventually bring cool autumn colors. The spiders are in their final days of living life to the fullest. My Orb-Weaver spider was big and bright and improved on her circular web every day....until she met her demise. The other spiders come in the form of flowers known as Spider Lilies. Up they pop up, taking every one unaware. No leaves, just heads of delicate, red blossoms. They are real pick-me-ups. More....

October 8th 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

This morning was wonderfully cool and crisp.  I dug out my gloves and took a walk past the sumac now showing signs of chlorophyll breakdown.  The green masks the other colors that are present in leaves. Once the chlorophylls get out of the way (food, leaf and major root production are now coming to a halt), the oranges and reds and yellows appear. Autumn colors are on their way.

The Orb-Weaver spider.  Apparently there was a battle at my back window this past week while we were at the beach.  In mid-September our 18 year old kitty, Abend, was coming to the end of her life, and I took her outside to be in the sun.  She wandered around and walked directly through an orb-weaver’s spider web.  The large bright yellow and greenish black spider scampered out of the way.  This spider, in the Argiope genus, is known to create a zig-zag path of silk (called the stabilimentum) down through the center of its circular, wheel-shaped web.  It is thought this web pattern actually makes the web less visible to potential food sources walking or flying around.  It worked.  Our cat did not see the web and obliterated it!

The next day the spider had put up another web much higher outside the back window.  As things would have it, our little cat died before we went to the beach. She was probably the most curious of our cats, and would cock her head to one side if something puzzled her.  She also had one tremendous attitude.  Veterinarians held great respect for this small tabby when she came into their office, angrily hunkered down, growling and trapped in her cage.  When the door to her cage was opened, only select family members could remove her without drawing blood.  We knew her age was catching up with her when the trips to the vet were met with resignation instead of fury.  The final blow that did her in was her malfunctioning thyroid.  She had been on medication for two years, but eventually it became less and less effective. 

Abend kitty came home in a little box, but was buried in a soft towel next to the other three cats our two sons had grown up with.  The cats each have a flat stone, and a rock studded with dozens of small crystals from Hot Springs area is in the middle, keeping watch.  There was Wesley (part Maine Coon kitten that followed my youngest son and me home one morning and loved most people), Dasher (wild kitten discovered alongside the road by a milk truck driver and hated most people), Morgan (my calico kitten I found in a beer carton and was just a sweetheart), and Abend (she and her little brother were found meowing beside a dirt road.  We had found homes for both kitties, but our oldest son just had to have her.  She stayed with us and rounded out our number of cats to four).  Well, our sons are grown and have gone elsewhere, and all our family cats are now gone.  Every cat lived beyond 15 years.  We do have two recent rescues, but they chose our home as young cats, not kittens. 

The spider was going strong at the back door after Abend had gone.  We took off to North Carolina and spent a week in the sun, the waves and the sand before coming back to Oklahoma yesterday.  This morning I went to check on the spider, and there she was, lying on her back-on the cold concrete patio-very dead.  Her web had been ripped up with a yellow secretion in the remnants of the zig zag….and another spider had strung up another web in the general vicinity.  The cad.  It’s a cruel world, but it is time for most spiders to have their last hurrah before they depart to that great spider land in the sky. 

Fall has arrived.  Before the plants all go to sleep, Mother Nature has some surprises up her sleeve.

The Spider Lily (common names: red spider lily, red magic lily, hurricane lily, and resurrection lily), but scientifically is known as Lycoris radiata, has started popping up out of the ground.  No leaves herald the appearance of these surprise lilies.  They rise up as bright green stems soon topped by delicate red umbels of flowers.  The “lily” originated in China, was taken to Japan, and eventually arrived in the USA in 1854.  They have become naturalized in North Carolina, Texas and other states and can develop into fields of crimson.  These “lilies” usually surface after rains in early autumn, surprising everyone, so some call them surprise lilies.  The long thin red petals bend back at the ends and are interspersed with long red stamens (the male part of the flower with pollen) that reach out and up to the sun. 

Do not confuse this surprise lily with another surprise lily that has broader, fragrant white or pink flower petals on light green stems.  This is the Naked Lady (Lycoris squamigera), and is another fall-blooming “lily” that also answers to the common names of surprise lily, resurrection lily and magic lily.  Sound familiar?  It, too, hails from China or Japan and is a relative of the Spider lily. 

Oh wait… there is another fall lily that calls itself Naked Lady lily (Amaryllis belladonna).  This “lily” has large flowers that may be white with crimson veins, pink or purple on light green stems and also blooms in autumn.  Only distantly related to the lily, this flower in the Amaryllis genus comes from South Africa.

The bulbs of all these different lily-like flowers are poisonous and have delightful toxic alkaloids and glycosides, so hide the bulbs from dogs, cats and kids until ready to plant.  Notice I said lily-like.  None of these flowers discussed above with lily in their name are true lilies.  Those flowers and their hybrids all belong in the Lilium genus and have their origins in the temperate northern hemisphere (Europe, Asia, Canada and the USA).  The Easter Lily and the “Stargazer” lily are true lilies.  Lily bulbs, some of which may be more bitter, are not that poisonous.  One caveat: unless you are a cat.  Some true lily species are toxic to cats.  Meow.

Common names can be very confusing.  Two people may use the same common name for two different species of flowers, thinking they are both talking about the same flower!  There are reasons why those double Latin names, the scientific names, keep cropping up.  It keeps you and your gardening buddy on the same page!

Back to the spider lily.  In Japan these lilies are grown around rice paddies and houses to keep the mice and pests away (they are poisonous, remember).  The Buddhists plant spider lily bulbs in the spring on the graves of their ancestors.  They have a celebration in honor of their deceased relatives and the arrival of fall by gathering at the graves to see the spider lilies in bloom. 

Here in Oklahoma, when the red spider lilies come up, people are taken off guard and   arereminded that not all flowers bloom at springtime.  My mother has spider lilies in two places.  The mulberry saplings had to be removed to free one batch, while the other group's only problem might be fire ants!   My mother’s neighbors have diligently marked every red spider lily bloom in their yard with a brilliant pink flag that will enable them to find and dig up the bulbs later in the fall.  From a distance the spider lily-flag collection looks like deep pink lollipops embedded in a red shag carpet. 

Spider lilies.  A little shot of flower color right above the ground happening a few weeks before the leaves above those flowers begin to turn colors and cold winds above the trees begin blowing across the landscape.  Where are those gloves?