Surprise lilies, or Lycoris squamigera, add beauty and fragrance to the garden in late summer. Many of the common names are as whimsical as the plant itself. He has been called the magic lily, the mysterious lily, the resurrection lily, the sesame lily, the surprise lily, the cocky – the most evocative name of all – Naked Lady! Read on to learn more about these trumpet-shaped flowers that appear on bare stalks when other summer blooms seem to be dwindling.
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What is surprising?
My first experience with surprise lilies was when they appeared unexpectedly in the garden of my childhood home. Surprise lilies grow from bulbs, so I’m assuming a squirrel may have been responsible for planting them. The most miraculous thing about Lilies’ surprise is that they seem to be resurrected. It emerges as a mass of silvery-green, belt-like leaves in spring, returns to the ground by July and reappears as a single, sturdy stem bearing a cluster of delicate, pink-scented flowers in late summer. Part of their charm is their ability to appear in the unexpected.
Where do surprise lilies come from?
Lycoris squamigera is not actually a lily but a member of the amaryllis family. The name Lycoris refers to a minor Greek goddess, and Squamigera means “bearing scales,” a reference to the tiny scales that give the flower an iridescent sheen. Surprise lilies are native to Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea and have been sold in the United States since the late 1800s. It does not appear to be invasive in North America but bears watch for its ability to naturalize and spread in wild areas.
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How to grow surprise lilies
Surprise lily bulbs can be purchased from many online sources and at local garden centers. They can be planted in spring or fall, but gardeners are cautioned to be patient as they will not bloom in the first year after planting. Choose a location with fertile soil in sun or shade and plant 5 to 6 inches deep. It should be watered moderately as it grows. Surprise lilies propagate from an onion plant and can be divided every three years.
Although the trumpet-shaped flowers are pretty, their appearance on bare, two-foot stems can be a bit jarring. They can be grown in perennial borders that have interesting foliage from other plants, including plants that bloomed earlier in the summer. They also make good companions for hosta leaves.
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Another surprise: They’re relatively pest-free.
Both deer and rabbits avoid feeding surprise lilies. They have no serious insect or disease problems. The biggest threat to surprise lilies is frigid winter temperatures. To ensure a surprising annual appearance, insulate them for the winter with a 2-inch layer of mulch.
If you have gardening questions, Master Gardeners of Lancaster County are available to help. Please email photos along with your question to: LancasterMG@psu.edu. Or you can call 717-394-6851 to speak with the master gardener.
Luis Miklas is a Pennsylvania master gardener in Lancaster County, and a former coordinator of the area’s master gardener.