Subtle Surprise

Belladonna lily (Lycoris squamigera) flowers reliably in late July and early August every year. Such a shame, then, that no more people grow it. You’ll most commonly see it in older neighborhoods — places where our grandmas planted the bulbs 40 or 50 years ago. It still flourishes in those gardens, like this one down the county road from our North Texas house.

This plant goes by a wide assortment of names, including the accepted botanic name that shows its relation to our common spider lily (also called Guernsey lily, Lycoris radiata). It’s also been identified as “fall amaryllis” and classed botanically as Amaryllis hallii. Its tubular flower form does indeed more closely resemble our heirloom spring-flowering red amaryllis (St. Joseph’s lily) than it does the starbursts of spider lilies. Continuing on seemingly forever with this story, the plant is also known by many Texas gardeners as “naked lady lily” due to the fact that it produces its large leaves in late winter and early spring, then goes completely bare until the lovely flowers are produced.

Nurseries sell belladonna lily bulbs each summer. You can also mark plants in the spring as their leaves die to the ground, then dig, divide and relocate them over the summer. They do best when grown in morning sun, then shade or filtered shade the balance of the day. As our grandmas’ plantings will testify, this is one perennial that truly can be planted, then forgotten. Still, amid the neglect, it will remind you how very special it is every year right about now.

Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top