While moles are carnivorous and mainly eat only earthworms, grubs and insect larva, they can cause immense cosmetic damage to surface soil and can also kill or damage plant roots as they dig their tunnels, mounds and nests.
Various methods are available for controlling mole populations, but the eradication options are quite unsavory. With moles being somewhat difficult to trap, relocation is usually not possible. Ridding an area of moles therefore usually involves gassing, chemical use, spiking, or other methods of physically injuring the animals.
When it comes to rice paddies in rural parts of Japan, burrowing moles create an additional significant headache for paddy farmers.
When these furry critters make their homes on the edges and surrounds of rice paddies, their tunneling activities can damage and puncture water containment banks. This can lead to significant crop losses if the paddies unknowingly drain of water and rice plants are left high and dry.
Japanese farmers have used an effective natural deterrent for controlling mole and rodent populations around rice growing regions for centuries. It doesn’t however, appear to be a technique that is widely used elsewhere in the world.
The plant Lycoris radiata, or Higanbana (in Japanese), has roots and bulbs which are lethally poisonous to small burrowing mammals.
Moles have a keen sense of smell and the areas in which the plants grow are easily detected from underground. With a wide spreading root system, the plant is a strong deterrent to invading pests.
As such, Japanese farmers specifically plant and encourage the lily along rice paddy banks. The plant can also be found in numerous Fall season gardens and near temples across Japan to protect the grounds from mammalian excavation.
In English, the plant is called Red Spider Lily due to its striking and somewhat spindly looking red flower (also known as Naked Lady and Storm Lily).
The more modernized and commonly used variety of Red Spider Lily is a cultivate member of the Amaryllis family. The flowers are sexually sterile and reproduction of the plant is only through division and growth of bulbs.
The Japanese name Higanbana consists of a combination of the words “Higan”, being the Buddist term for the period around equinox and “hana”, meaning flower. True to name, the Northern Fall Equinox is usually the peak period for seeing numerous vibrant stands of the flower in rural areas across Japan.
Latter in Winter months once all the flowers have withered, the plant continue to grow long blade like leaves in squat clumps around a foot or so (approx. 30 cm) in height. The plant is capable of surviving very harsh, cold weather conditions.
So if you have a mole problem in your garden; a population of which you wish to purge as humanely as possible, perhaps a few Red Spider Lily bulbs are worth a try. While they take a little time to spread and protect wide regions, the plant is an effective mole deterrent if planning for long term crops and gardens.
We are not aware of farmers or gardeners using Red Spider Lily as a mole deterrent elsewhere in the world. If you know of anyone using it in other countries specifically for mole control, we’d love to know about it!