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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lycoris- more denizens of the cloud forest

Lycoris aurea

Lycoris originate in Asia-Japan, Korea, China and mountainous area in other Asian countries. Most of the lycoris we received in the West had long been hybridized before we received them in the 19th c.. Lycoris radiata is a native species in Japan  (or maybe it's China--experts disagree). Anyhow we got ours in the U.S when Perry opened up Japan in the mid-19th c.

Since Japan and our Central Coast are close in latitude (between 45 and 34 N ) lycoris are a natural for us to grow here. The lycoris are also called Spider lilies--not very poetic, but reasonably descriptive.

Lycoris radiata in a grove-Japan

To the Japanese, lycoris are the stuff of legend-- of passionate but doomed lovers. The fall flowering of the flower after the leaves have disappeared gave the lilies the an association with death, the dying of the summer, an elegiac ambiance. 

William Herbert
Synchronicity appears to be at work in the naming of Lycoris. Another of those absolutely amazing and accomplished botanists appears. He did a magnum opus on the whole  family of Amaryllidaceae,* The Rev. and Hon. William Herbert  was a lawyer,M.P.,poet,classics scholar and formidable botanist.**

Lycoris alba.
Lycoris was the name of a cycle of elegiac poems written by Gaius Cornelius Gallus to his mistress (less fortunately named Volumnia). Herbert had just been whipping out translations of Greek and Roman poetry.

He had to  know Gallus was considered the first elegiac love poet  in Roman literature. ( The Gallus/ Lycoris story had a suitably doomed lovers ending as Gallus committed suicide.) Herbert named this fall blooming bulb to echo it's mythology in the Orient. Elegant!

Herbert's home in West Riding.
Have a look at Lycoris alba.This beauty was planted around houses to keep rodents out. The bulbs of all lycoris are very poisonous and ideal for decorative  pest control . (The Amaryllidaceae family, which includes narcissus, tends to be lethal if eaten.) Lysine is the poison derived from Lycoris. It's a protein inhibitor which is presently being investigated in the treatment of some cancers.

Border of lycoris
But the best reason for growing lycoris along our So Cal and Central Coast is it's beauty and ease of culture (for us).

 Like all the bulbs in this family it deeply resents being disturbed at the wrong time, and may sulk for a couple of years if displeased. The bulbs can be planted now and several nurseries have them (;  Lycoris, in our climate can be planted until Dec. 31. 

So---what are you waiting for?

* available as a download free from Google. 
** Herbert was a direct descendant of Mary Herbert Sydney, Countess of Pembroke,
the literary ornament and patron of the Elizabethan period.

Mary Herbert Sydney
                                                     by Nicholas Hilliard

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