What is a Butterfly Lily?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Deer and other animals are attracted to butterfly lillies.
Deer and other animals are attracted to butterfly lillies.

The scarlet butterfly lily, or firespike, is a flowering, tropical evergreen shrub native to Central America. The plant usually grows quickly and may begin to produce panicles of red, tube-shaped flowers in late summer. The scarlet butterfly lily continues to bloom throughout the winter in warmer climates. In colder climates, it will die in the winter, but sprout again in the spring. Among garden plants, the firespike is popular for landscaping as well as butterfly and hummingbird gardens.

Though native to Central America, the firespike can now be found growing wild in Florida. The firespike produces stiff, straight branches that can grow to a height of 6 feet (1.8 m). The oblong leaves normally grow opposite one another on each side of the stem, and may be 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15.2 cm) in length. The scarlet butterfly lily typically begins flowering in late summer and produces 9 to 12 inch (23 to 30.5 cm) upright panicles of tubular scarlet flowers. The flowers are usually about an inch long and are attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and white-tailed deer.

The scarlet butterfly lily generally likes full sun to partial shade. Because the plant is native to the semi-forested regions of Central America, many cultivators find that firespike thrives best when given about 50 percent shade. Soil should ideally be moist but well-drained. Mature, established plants can normally withstand brief periods of drought. In periods of extended drought, the firespike should be watered every two to three weeks at minimum.

Because it's a tropical evergreen, the firespike typically thrives best in warmer climates. The plant will generally flower from later summer all the way through the winter, if cultivated in a frost-free climate. The scarlet butterfly lily can often be cultivated in colder climates, where the temperature can be expected to drop as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (12.2 Celsius). In colder climates, this semi-woody evergreen shrub will appear to die in the winter, only to regrow in the spring. The scarlet butterfly lily can also be cultivated as a container plant, though it typically reaches only about half its natural size when cultivated this way.

These plants are considered easy to propagate by taking cuttings in the spring. Softwood cuttings are said to sprout easily, and often produce flowers in the first year. The firespike also spreads by underground sprouting, and will typically form a thicket if allowed. Such thickets are said to be easy to keep under control.

The red butterfly lily is often quite attractive to white-tailed deer. Those who cultivate this tropical plant are usually advised to protect it from deer. If deer eat too much of the plant, the plant will die.

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Discussion Comments


In an effort to attract some butterflies and hummingbirds to my yard, I planted some butterfly lily plants. I was not disappointed in them and I did seem to get more butterflies than hummingbirds, but enjoyed watching both of them visit these tall plants.

The most frustrating thing was the deer. I knew when I ordered them that deer were also attracted to this plant, and they really are! If you have deer in your yard, and you don't have some way to protect the plants, you might want to plant something else to attract the butterflies that the deer won't be so tempted to eat too.

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    • Deer and other animals are attracted to butterfly lillies.
      Deer and other animals are attracted to butterfly lillies.