January 7, 2014

A Florida White Lily Trifecta

For the past couple of years Bill and I have done a road trip in early December to Florida. It is always a bit strange to us to see palm trees decorated with Christmas lights, and to hear Muzak featuring "Let it Snow" when it is over 85 degrees outside. But it is always a fun trip and this year was no exception.

December isn't the best time of year for wildflowers but we did manage to see a fair number. Three beautiful white lilies were especially memorable. 

The first is called the Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasca). It is mostly a early spring bloomer in northern Florida, but we spotted a few on this December trip:

The bulb of this plant contains alkloids and a toxic chemical called lycorine, so eating it is definitely not recommended; some references indicate that all parts of the plant are poisonous. The plant prefers moist soils and can grow well in roadside ditches, which is where we saw them. 

The state of Florida lists the Atamasco Lily as threatened due to habitat loss. It often grows in clumps, and when the sun is out and the petals broadly flare it really is beautiful.

The next white lily grows along swamp or pond margins and is aptly named Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum). Its flowers are quite fragrant and they are huge--roughly 6-7 inches in diameter:

The plant rises from a large, 3-4 inch bulb and its straplike leaves can be up to 3 feet long. Despite the fact that all parts of this lily contain poisonous alkaloids, it is always fun to see its gorgeous flower!

Last but not least is the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis crassifolia). The membranes between the upright stamens make it quite showy:

It, too, arises from an alkaloid-containing bulb and is found into Louisiana and the Carolinas in addition to Florida.  Like the other lilies mentioned here, it prefers moist soil and can be found in wetlands and along creek and river banks.

Beautiful flowers, poisonous bulbs--nature doing its best to attract pollinators and repel predators! 


  1. Beautiful -- just what I need to see on this cold morning. Do these flowers have a scent?

  2. How did you spot these beauties? Linda H.