Bridge to Hell: Red Spider Lily

by Xinyuan (Kara) Lyu


I have heard many stories about the red spider lily from movies, books, and the internet. The most impressive story, however, was one I heard from my mother. In my mother’s story, a devil fell in love with a human girl. The devil’s love was unrequited because the girl did not like the devil at all because he had a fearful look. Therefore, the devil imprisoned the girl and expected one day she would feel touched by the devil’s love and change her mind. One day, a soldier passed by the devil’s place. The soldier rescued the girl from the prison and killed the devil. When the devil died he returned to hell, but his blood spattered on the Earth. Unrequited love hurt the most, and after the devil’s death, this scarlet red spider lily grew from the spot where he died. This spot became the bridge to hell, connecting the hell and the Earth. 


I never thought that I would see a red spider lily with my own eyes. On the day I went back home worship my grandparents in Ningbo, a town in southern China, I saw a red spider lily for the first time. When my family and I entered the cemetery, I noticed a large patch of red flowers growing near the tomb. Even though I had seen pictures of the flower on the internet, I was shocked by its beauty. The color was so dazzling that it was almost impossible for me to ignore it, but none of the elders around me were interested in the flower. I tried to walk closer to look at the lily, but my uncle stopped me and told me to stay away because these flowers would bring me misfortune.  

Even though I had seen pictures of the flower on the internet, I was shocked by its beauty. The color was so dazzling that it was almost impossible for me to ignore it.

Although I knew many myths about the red spider lily, I was still confused about people’s strange attitudes toward it. I wanted to learn more about this plant. Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is also known as manjusaka, and is native to China, Korea, and Nepal. It has been introduced to Japan, the United States, and other places around the world. It is called red spider lily because each flower has significantly reflexed and long petals that look like spider legs. The red spider lily also has strap-like grayish-green leaves, but you cannot see leaves together with flowers, because the leaves only appear after the bloom is finished. Wild red spider lily typically grows in acidic soils and prefers shady and moist environments that are rich in organic matter, which provides the necessary nutrients and minerals for it to grow. This habitat preference explains why people usually find a vast mass of red spider lily at the side of tombs, and explains why people usually associate red spider lilies and hell together. 


Most stories depict red spider lily as a representation of an evil world. People say it only brings disasters, however, red spider lily is also sometimes used for medical treatments. Its roots are used to treat swellings, ulcers, and the nervous afflictions of children. The bulb is used to counteract poisons and can be made into a plaster to treat burns and scalds. Additionally, Red spider flower contains alkaloids that are associated with anticancer, antibacterial, and antiretroviral properties. 


I became very disappointed after I found out that some people in my hometown were burning and cutting out red spider lilies. People only believed in the evil sides of red spider lily from fictional stories, but ignored its benefits in the real world. The intentional destruction of red spider lilies led to its disappearance in many wild areas near my hometown, and I hardly ever saw any red spider lilies  I realized that human beings are not the only victims of stereotypes and prejudices. Plants like the red spider lily also suffer from it. I know it is difficult to change people’s beliefs, but I hope you will have a different opinion about it after reading my plant love story.


Xinyuan is a 21 years old student currently studying biology at University of Pittsburgh. She comes from Beijing, China and currently live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Photo Credits: (Top) Jim Evans Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]; (Bottom): おぉたむすねィく探検隊. 彼岸花と蝶. Wikipedia Commons

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