Surprise Lilies

One of the more intriguing plants in the garden is Lycoris squamigera.  Common names include magic lily, resurrection lily, surprise lily, and naked lady.  Lycoris squamigera is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family.  It is native to Japan.  The genus name Lycoris comes from a Roman actress and mistress of Mark Antony. 

surprise lily in bloom
Surprise lily blooms in mid to late summer on leafless stalks that seemingly come up from nowhere (hence the surprise!)

Appearance and Characteristics

The life cycle of Lycoris squamigera is rather unique.  Its long, strap-shaped leaves emerge in spring, but die back to the ground by early summer.  Pink, lily-like flowers with long stamens that gracefully extend beyond the petals are borne in clusters on 18- to 24-inch-tall, leafless, flower stalks in late summer.  Each flower stalk seemingly appears overnight and produces 4 to 12 flowers. 

Planting and Care

Lycoris squamigera performs best in partial shade to full sun in well-drained soils.  Plant bulbs in early fall 5 to 6 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart.  Since the dying foliage is rather unsightly, interplant the magic lily with other perennials.  Because the flower stalks are relatively tall, they can be in the middle or back fo the border. Growing the bulbs among open or airy perennials like threadleaf coreopsis, perennial geranium, or prairie dropseed can be particularily nice.  


Lycoris squamigera multiples quickly via daughter bulbs or offsets.  Dig and separate bulbs every 4 to 5 years.  Bulbs can be dug after the foliage dies back in early summer or after flowering in late summer.  Extra bulbs can be given to friends and neighbors.

surprise lily foliage emerging
The foliage emerges in spring and looks somewhat like daffodil foliage.  The leaves will die completely back by late spring before the flowers emerge weeks later.
surprise lily flower buds
Surprise lily flower stalks just before blooms open.
surprise lily in bloom
Flower stalks emerge in mid to late summer.

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