Hymenocallis--TOW-Part One

Kevin D. Preuss hyline@tampabay.rr.com
Sun, 18 Apr 2004 23:06:14 PDT
Hymenocallis--TOW Part One

The New World genus Hymenocallis Salisbury (Amaryllidaceae), recognized as 
a distinct genus since 1812, is composed of roughly 70 to 80 species with 
plenty of room for debate. The native habitats range in the United States 
from Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, south to the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, 
Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mexico where the genus explodes; the
majority of the species occur in Central America and radiate down into the 
northern portions of South America (Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil) as well.

The closer one looks at the species and groups of species of Hymenocallis, 
the harder it is to find the lines of distinction. Herbarium specimens are 
valuable in providing locality information, primarily. Reticulate/hybrid 
evolution would seem to play some role in speciation within the genus.

A big problem in gaining an understanding of the genus is that populations 
are being eradicated at alarmingly fast rates as wetlands are being 
modified.   Lost populations could be links to other taxa; once the various 
populations are destroyed, the hybrid  swarm populations become isolated. 
It is like working on a puzzle with missing pieces.  For example, H. 
littoralis, the type specimen, is from a small island  (Tera Bomba) on the 
NE coast of Columbia.  This could very well be one of the species H. 
carribbeae or H. latifolia.

The SE US has 15 species (roughly). The tropics (South America, West Indies 
and Caribbean island) is host to a wide array of species with 4 species 
occurring in Cuba, at least 3 or 4 species in Jamaica, a few species in the 
West Indies.

South America is host to another 5-6 species (e.g. H. venezuelensis, H. 
tubiflora, H. speciosa, etc...). In Central America, H. latifolia occurs in 
Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico (and uncommonly 
coastal SE US).  Mexico is another center of diversity for the genus with 
many species native to the various climatic regions.  Thad Howard, Dave 
Lehmiller and Jim Bauml (he did his PhD on the Mexican species) have 
experience with these plants.
These are a little more difficult to cultivate, as replicating their 
habitat is difficult at sea level here in humid Florida.

The three closely related genera  once classified as Hymenocallis , 
Ismene,  Elisena, and Leptochiton , replace Hymenocallis in the Andean 
regions. For practical purposes sometimes when referring to hybrids, the 
genera Elisena, Ismene, and Leptochiton are recognized under the genus
Hymenocallis in a broad sense. They are distinct groups,  not the true 
spider lilies however. Meerow and Snijman recognize each group as distinct 
genera; together the four genera comprise their tribe Hymenocallideae. The 
taxonomy of the group seems in flux continuously.

Interestingly, the taxa that offset prolifically do not readily set seeds 
and the taxa that set seeds well are not typically prolific offsetters.  In 
some groups, rhizomes may occur in one population while in another of the 
same species, some individuals in a population may have rhizome while most 
others do not (H. palmeri, H. henryae, etc...).  Some species rarely offset,
particularly within the Mexican group.

Based upon my encounters with the genus in the United States, Hymenocallis 
populations most often occur in or on the margins of wetland ecosystems 
(marshes, lakes, rivers, forested swamps, wet prairies). Less often they 
occur in dry woods (H. galvestonesis), flatwoods (H. henryae), or in 
disturbed sites such as pastures and roadside ditches as do, for example, 
some populations of H. palmeri and H. galvestonensis (H. ocidentalis var. 
eulae) , or on coastal dunes as does H. latifolia var. keyensis (possibly 
H. carribeae) on Bahia Honda key in Florida. They are most spectacular when 
found blooming on many rivers and spring runs in the Southeast, such as
the Cahaba lilies (Hymenocallis coronaria) on the Cahaba River in Alabama 
and the spider lilies (H. rotata) on the Santa Fe River of northern Florida 
and its spring runs (H. franklinensis is another spring run spider lily) .

A few of the southeastern US species are listed as threatened or endangered 
and are protected in more than one state at the state level (H. coronaria, 
H. godfreyi, H. henryae).

Spider lilies are commonly cultivated throughout most of their range and 
are grown in many tropical parts of the New World. They make excellent cut 
flowers, even if short lived. A few of the tropical species hold their 
flower for a few days, however.

Kevin Preuss
St. Petersburg, FL

More information about the pbs mailing list