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Today is October 4, 2022

Mississippi Seen

Whatever you call them, spider lilies herald fall

Whatever you call them, spider lilies herald fall

The spider lily goes by several names, but they all are attached to the flower that pops up in your yard between mowings in September and lasts until October. Photo: Walt Grayson

    When we got back home the other day from a 10-day trip out west to the canyons in Utah and Arizona, primarily the Grand Canyon, the first sight we saw as we walked back into the yard were the spider lilies blooming. Some people call them surprise lilies or pop-up lilies or naked ladies. I’m not really sure all of these are the same flower, but they all suggest the same behavior: suddenly appearing one day with a long, leafless stalk and a blossom that takes you by surprise.

    Actually, it is one of the disappointments of my life that I started watching for the blooming of my spider lilies every year so they don’t surprise me like they used to. However, they did this year because our trip had distracted me and I wasn’t even thinking about them while we were among rock cliffs and deep canyons and mountains and all.
    We had a row of spider lilies in the side yard just in the drip line of the house when I was growing up. And remember, a year takes forever when you are a child. So every eternity or so those flowers would bloom. I never associated their blooms with the end of summer and the beginning of fall. They just bloomed, and I’d pick a bunch and take them to Mama. She’d put them in a vase on the dinning room table until they began to look scraggly.
    Then one September I was exploring the old Port Gibson Battlefield and ran across a place where an old home had been. The spider lilies the homeowners had set out in their yard had run rampant and populated an acre or so. That is really the first time I associated this time of year with the blooming of what had been my surprise lily.
    Now I find them blooming as early as the first weeks of August at places like the yard of the antebellum home Longwood in Natchez. So even what little bit of anticipation I used to have waiting mine out is sort of diminished when I see them already blooming somewhere earlier.
   But the flower is like an old friend who comes around now and again and tips me off that the world is still operating like it used to, that there is some stability in the midst of the instability.     
    The emergence of the spider lilies falls in with what I call my dominos of autumn, the toppling of which begins with Labor Day and continues with the Mississippi State Fair, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and New Year’s. To these I add the blooming of the spider lilies as yet another marker of the passage of time.
    I used to get sort of sad that the year was rushing to a close that way. It wasn’t like that when we were kids, when a year lasted forever instead of just a few months.
    But I have taken on a whole new attitude about my time markers and the toppling that leads to the end of the year. I suddenly realized here a while back that time doesn’t stop at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It goes on.
    So even though we have state fair food and cold weather and the holidays ahead, after all that is done, we’ll have spring again next year. And we’ll get to do it all over again.

    Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” To contact Grayson, send email to

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