Native to South Africa, Ferraria is a genus composed of 10 species of plants having large, flattened corms. The Spider Flowers, as they are called, are short-lived, lasting from one to three days, but very interesting. The genus was named in honor of Giovanni Battista Ferrari, who first described a ferraria in 1633. Ferrarias were brought to Europe before the middle of the 17th century and cultivated there as items of interest, in part due to their unusual flowers. Spider flowers make lovely additions to the garden, adding a unique charm of their own. The star-like flowers, which resemble a starfish, have also prompted the nickname of Starfish Lily as well.
The most popular and commonly grown species of spider flowers is F. crispa. This spider flower reaches about 12-18 inches and has unusually green-fringed flowers with purple blotched interiors. Growing 10-14 inches is another handsome species, F. uncinata. Its flowers are dark purple colored with a yellow-brown fringe or cream with a green-brown fringe. F. densepunctulata is a rare species with flowers having a cream background and alternating petals of red-violet and violet with a light yellow-brown outer fringe. With pale green flowers and yellow- crisped edges, F. ferrariola is quite exceptional. This smaller beauty reaches heights between 6-10 inches. F. divaricata, another shorty, has variable colored flowers. You may find some colored pale green with cream centers and bluish-purple marks, and others having a light yellow background with light purple centers fringed with brown.
Growing in spring from underground corms, spider flowers are primarily grown for their unique and frilly, speckled flowers, which usually range in shades of brown to yellow, violet and blue or combinations of all of these colors and even green. Spider flowers last a single day, but established plants will usually produce a large number. Spider flowers also have an unusual shape. They are relatively small and many of the flowers emit an unpleasant aroma, reminiscent of rotten meat. However, there are some spider flowers that are sweetly scented such as F. brevifolia, F. kamiesbergensis and F. schaeferi.
Spider flowers are easy bulbs to grow. These plants prefer to be located in sun or semi-shade in loamy, well-drained soil just beneath the surface (1-2 inches). Plants in too much shade will fail to bloom and will eventually die out. The rarer species are generally best grown in pots or containers. Once their spring flowering has completed, the foliage will slowly begin to fade and the spider flowers go dormant in summer. During this time, all watering should be limited. Bring any container-grown plants indoors for over wintering and provide a generous amount of mulch for winter protection outdoors. Established spider flowers will produce large clumps each year. These can be easily divided in the spring when overcrowding becomes a problem or if additional plants are desired elsewhere in the garden.