The Flower Of The Dead

死人花 - The Flower of the dead - ©Uchujin-Adrian Storey. All Rights reserved.
死人花 – The Flower of the dead

I know its really autumn now.

Not just because I’m starting to feel the looming of S.A.D.,the change in the temperature requiring no fan to sleep or the noticably shorter days.

No, it is the Lycoris radiata, Red Spider Lily, Cluster Amaryllis – ‘The Flower Of The Dead’, that can been seen flowering at this time of year that signals that the Autumn equinox is only days away and that we have almost completed yet another yearly cycle of seasons.

This beautiful flower originally came from China but only the female variety made it to Japan so missing its male half the plant cannot reproduce via pollen transfer as most other flowers do.

Highly posionous, the bulbs contain toxic alkaloids that if ingested cause paralysis of the central nervous system and ultimately death. For this reason they were often, in pre cremation times, planted in graveyards to prevent wild animals eating the corpses.

The stalks however contain some edible proteins and so it was often planted on the narrow paths between the rice paddies to be used as emergency food if the rice harvests were poor.

The flower has many names here in Japan, some say as many as 900:-

“Manjushage” 曼珠沙華 is taken from a line in the Buddhist Lotus sutra, refering to a red flower

“higan-bana” 彼岸花、flower of the autumn equinox

“shibito-bana” 死人花, the flower of the dead

“jigoku-bana” 地獄花、flower of hell

To name but 4.

In Japanese mythology it is the flower that grows along the banks of the river that one must cross after death or the flower that grows in hell.
There are many haiku written about this flower where it is often assosiated with lonliness and death.

Above all though it is really beautiful, I remember the first time I saw one a few years ago as I was walking to work one bright autumn day, it made me stop in my tracks.
I have always taken photos of them whenever I have seen them since that first time, this year I even saw a white one for the first time. Which I believe is called a Lycoris albiflora, a natural hybrid.

 Lycoris albiflora ©Uchujin-Adrian Storey. All Rights reserved.
Lycoris albiflora

They always leave me feeling slightly melancholy but awed by the fact that even someone as cynical as me can still be rendered speechless and motionless by a simple flower.

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  • Kristen

    Thank you for that seasonal botanical insight. I had never connected the flower to the equinox. Now I will.