Lycoris caldwellii
Common Name: lycoris
Type: Bulb
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Native Range: China
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 0.75 to 1.00 feet
Bloom Time: September
Bloom Description: Pastel yellow
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 5-9 where bulbs are typically grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun to light shade. Generally performs well in sandy loams. Plant bulbs 9” apart in fall with the top 1/4" of the neck of each bulb exposed. Plants appreciate consistent moisture during their active growing season, but are best sited in areas where soils remain relatively dry during the summer dormant period. Plants will naturalize by bulb offsets and form small colonies over time. Plants are best left undisturbed in the soil. If transplanted, bulbs may not flower for one or more years. North of USDA Zone 5, bulbs should be grown in large and deep containers that are overwintered indoors.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Lycoris caldwellii, commonly called surprise lily, is a bulbous perennial of the amaryllis family. It is a sterile triploid that is native to moist to sometimes wet shady slopes in southeastern China.

Narrow-linear, strap-like, daffodil-like, medium to dark green leaves (each to 12" long) appear in spring, but disappear as plants go dormant in summer. Naked flower scapes typically rising to 14-20” tall emerge from the ground in late summer (September), each scape bearing an umbel of 6-7 spidery, pastel yellow flowers that fade to yellowish-white as they age. Each flower (to 2” long) has six slightly reflexed, petal-like tepals and short stamens which are shorter than the perianth.

Genus name honors a Roman beauty, the mistress of Mark Antony.

Specific epithet honors Sam Caldwell (1904-2000) of Nashville, Tennessee who was a well-known lycoris breeder.

Plants in the genus Lycoris have acquired a number of different common names over time including resurrection flower, surprise lily, magic lily, and mystery lily in recognition of the somewhat magically surprising rise from the dead of the flower stalks in late summer after summer dormancy. Additional common names include naked ladies and spider lily.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Plants may take a few seasons to establish in the St. Louis climate.

Garden Uses

Sunny borders. Interplant with other perennials (including low growing ground covers) and/or annuals. Containers that must be brought indoors over winter.