Queens of Their Gardens

This beauty popped into bloom in our gardens just a day after an e-gardens distributed two weeks ago. I couldn’t get it into that edition, but here it is now.

They look like some type of amaryllis, what with their trumpet-shaped blooms of three each, petals and sepals. Whoever would assume that this plant, Lycoris squamigera, could be sister to our more familiar spider lilies of the fall, Lycoris radiata?

You can see the bare stems – no leaves, just the lily-like blooms. All this appears in a matter of 3 or 4 days where leaves stood 5 months earlier.

The more frequently used common name in Texas is “naked lady lily,” so I’ll stick with that one. It comes by its name because its delicate pink blooms are produced on stalks standing proudly without leaves. The bold foliage, looking much like that of daffodils and narcissus, sprouts up in late winter.

Spring foliage of naked lady lilies on left. Leaves die out by late spring having stored food in bulbs to produce the lovely early fall blooms on the right. Sperry landscape. Click image for larger view.

By the end of the spring all the leaves have turned yellow, then brown and died back to the ground. Then, sometime in late August or early September these beautiful blossoms pop out of the ground. And that’s where the other name, “surprise” lily, also enters the picture.

These plants have bloomed faithfully for all 46 years that we’ve lived across the county road from this abandoned property. To say they’ve received minimal care is an understatement. Click image for larger view.

It’s best to grow both naked lady lilies and spider lilies where they can remain undisturbed for many years. The bulbs multiply slowly, forming clumps for more and more blooms. My experience has been that they often don’t bloom for their first couple of years in their new gardens, also that they don’t always bloom every year.

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Naked lady lilies are sterile triploid hybrids, meaning that you won’t get any seeds. The plants are propagated only by division of existing bulbs early each fall.

Naked lady lilies tolerate moderate shade, particularly from the hot afternoon sun. It’s best to plant them into well-draining, highly organic garden soil that stays uniformly moist but not wet for prolonged periods.

One of my best friends, Bob Brackman – first horticulturist at the Dallas Arboretum – sent me this photo of some of his naked lady lilies blooming a couple of weeks ago in his Nashville gardens at the house where he grew up.

The bulbs are a bit hard to find, and when you do, they may be a bit pricey. But know that you’ll be getting a wonderful heirloom that was brought into this country from China during the Civil War. Primarily being handed along from gardener to gardener, it took it awhile to make its way across the East Coast and then the Gulf Coast, but it’s here to stay now.

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I hope you can find it. If a friend has a planting, see if you can talk them out of a few bulbs. The best time to dig and relocate them is a few weeks after their tops have died to the ground in late spring.

Just so you’ll be able to compare them, here is the sister plant, Lycoris radiata, spider lily.
Posted by Neil Sperry
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