Spider lilies herald a welcome seasonal shift

Those who crave a break from the long Mississippi summer, rejoice in the flowers’ debut.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

My mom, vigilant for their return, usually spotted the first spider lily of the season.

“I saw a naked lady by the shed,” she would announce exuberantly. “That means fall’s on the way.”

Spider lilies are often known as “naked ladies” in the South, where they’re also called surprise lilies and magic lilies because of their growth habit:

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Their leaves are seen in winter and spring, but die down by summer. Then flower stalks appear as if by magic in fall, since there aren’t any leaves to indicate where they’ve been planted.

Spider lilies (Lycoris) are the only reliable harbinger of autumn that I know of in south Mississippi. Cool snaps tease us, but we don’t see any real fall weather until late October.

With the appearance of just a single crimson or honey-yellow corona atop a slender, leafless stalk, those of us who crave a break from the long summer rejoice in the demure debut of the naked ladies. They confirm our hope that the lingering heat of late summer will relinquish its heavy-handed grip – eventually.

Coastal Mississippi runs the gamut of seasonal instability in the fall. We witness the leaves of trees turning purple and gold, and at the same time watch the Gulf for tropical hurricanes. We chop wood for fireplaces knowing full well that we may run the air conditioner at Christmas. We go barefoot as late as November.

The first sight of a naked lady will send my heart racing and my mind dancing through memories of my parents and their annual yearning for a cooler climate. Sweating through each broiling Mississippi August, they threatened time and again to move.

“I want to live where there are distinct seasons of the year,” Mom would pine.

“Will this miserable summer never end?” Dad would ask from his wilted garden vaporizing in the blistering sun.

But they spent their entire lives in Mississippi. Each latent autumn would bring new threats to evacuate to northern regions, and each mild winter would solidify their resolve to remain at home, safe from blizzards and banks of snow.

As I watch for that sentinel of their favorite shift of seasons, I’ll also prepare for the bittersweet rush of memories that sentimental autumn brings. I miss my mom and dad and the way they reveled in the arrival of “free air conditioning” that seemed to rejuvenate their very souls.

Summer can never leave too soon for me, either.

Fall offers the opportunity to sit on the front porch, any time of day, and enjoy the absence of sweaty rivulets compromising the comfort of my jeans.

Fall is a season of invigoration and remembrance. When it arrives, I will recall gathering on the porch with my parents for discussions of turnip greens and pumpkin bread and the emerging painted landscape.

Something about the season evokes the need to find a rocking chair and contemplate things such as childhood memories, old recipes, and how absolutely wonderful it is to have to throw a quilt on the bed at night.

With their perennial return, the naked ladies affirm that fall will ultimately arrive down South, whether the thermometer agrees or not.

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