What the Red Spider Lily Symbolizes

Red spider lilies have an alluring and unusual beauty that is further highlighted by their electric-red hue that lights gardens, fields, and riverbanks on fire during their blooming season. These attractive flowers, however, have a less beautiful symbolism that gives them a special place in traditions but a less prominent place in floral arrangements or inside the home. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about the Red Spider Lily’s meaning and cultural significance in the language of flowers.

Red Spider Lily Meaning in the Language of Flowers

Red Spider Lily Meaning – The Essentials

The most prominent symbolic meaning associated with red spider lilies is death due to the practice of planting them or placing them on gravesites for protection and as tributes to the dead. Red spider lilies are also considered to be the flowers of heaven and also represent final goodbyes, abandonment, and bad luck in the language of flowers.

Etymological meaning

The red spider’s lily’s common name refers to the flower’s appearance and tendency to bloom after exceptionally hard rains. 

Its scientific names come from two ancient words. Lycoris is ancient Greek for “twilight.” Radiata is Latin for “to beam” or “to shine.” In taxonomy, however, the word radiata also usually describes symmetrical radiating points in biological forms. This is the more likely origin of radiata in Lycoris radiata, as the red spider lily’s stamens offer this circular symmetry to the flowers.

Spider Lily Flower Colors and Their Symbolism

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Red Spider Lilies

Lycoris radiata only blooms in red, but other species of spider lilies from the Lycoris genus have differently colored flowers, and they also have different symbolic meanings.

  • Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) – Red spider lilies are strongly associated with death, last goodbyes, and sad memories. They are thought of as the flowers of the heavens.
  • Pink Spider Lily (Lycoris squamigera) – Pink spider lilies symbolize love, passion, and feminine beauty.
  • Orange Spider Lily (Lycoris sanguinea) – An orange spider lily symbolizes confidence, pride, honor, conviction, and wealth. An orange lily can also be associated with success, fun, and enthusiasm.
  • Yellow Spider Lily (Lycoris aurea) – A yellow spider lily symbolizes richness and wealth. It can also symbolize gratitude, cheerfulness, friendship, courage, and wisdom.
  • Blue Spider Lily (Lycoris sprengeri) – Blue spider lilies symbolize calm energy and truth. They also represent positivity, inspiration, trustworthiness, reliability, stability, accuracy, and freedom.
  • White Spider Lily (Lycoris albiflora) – White spider lilies symbolize freshness, new beginnings, and positive nature.

Red Spider Lilies in Hanakotoba

Hanakotoba is the Japanese language of flowers. Similar to the Victorian flower language (floriography), hanakotoba assigns meanings to different species and/or colors of flowers so that they can be used as an alternative form of communication.

In this tradition, a red spider lily (higanabana or manjushage) means abandonment, never to meet again, or lost memory.

Autumn Festivals and Red Spider Lilies

Autumn Festivals and Red Spider Lilies

Since they bloom in autumn, red spider lilies are associated with the arrival of fall and are incorporated into seasonal festivals in Japan, China, Nepal, and Korea. For example, the Satte Hibangana Festival celebrates the blossoming of the second largest display of red spider lilies in Japan. (The largest display is in Kinchakuda).

Red Spider Lilies in Buddhism

In Buddhism, it is a common practice to mark the arrival of autumn and offer a tribute by placing bouquets of red spider lilies at their ancestors’ graves.

The Lotus Sutra describes red spider lilies as flowers that grow in hell. As a result, certain Chinese and Japanese Buddhist traditions believe that these flowers help lead spirits through the afterlife and into reincarnation.

Red Spider Lilies in Japanese Christianity

Legend also says that red spider lilies bloomed in the places where Japanese Christian martyrs were killed during medieval times.

Japanese Legend

More legends say when a person crosses paths with someone whom they will never meet again, that red spider lilies bloom along the path. In addition to their association with death and the afterlife, these legends are also partly responsible for the flower’s association with final goodbyes.

Red Spider Lilies and Bad Luck

Although red spider lilies were planted at gravesites as an offering and a symbol of protection, they are so strongly associated with death that they are considered to be bad luck. For this reason, many people will not bring red spider lilies into their homes.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Red Spider Lilies

Red spider lilies are not suitable for gifting occasions other than funerals and memorials. They are strongly associated with final goodbyes and death.

Red spider lilies, however, are a good flower choice for memorial services, remembrance, and funerals. In Buddhist traditions, they are commonly planted on graves as a tribute to the dead. Similarly, bouquets of red spider lilies are also given as altar offerings to honor one’s ancestors.

The Final Word

With their striking bright red blossoms, red spider lilies are stunning and alluring flowers to behold. The unfortunately negative connotations associated with their symbolic meaning, however, prevent many people from enjoying their beauty. So, if you ascribe to symbolic meanings, you likely won’t be ordering bouquets of red spider lilies for your home or as gifts anytime soon. If you don’t ascribe to symbolism in flowers, you might as well plant them in your garden, bring them inside, and enjoy their fiery red hue.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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