Lycoris squamigera,
surprise lily, magic lily     1889

surprise lily, magic lily heirloom bulbssurprise lily, magic lily bagtag

In late summer, bare stalks rocket up out of nowhere, opening into shimmering, lavender-pink, amaryllis-like flowers. Surprise! Also known as naked ladies and resurrection lily, this Asian wildflower is “nearly ideal for the middle and upper South,” Scott Ogden writes in Garden Bulbs for the South. It blooms here in chilly zone-6 Ann Arbor, too, if you can give it a sunny site that stays relatively dry in summer – and patience as it re-establishes itself. 36”, zones 5b-8a(8bWC), from North Carolina. Learn more.


SUB TYPE   wildflower

ZONES   5b-8a(8bWC)

HEIGHT   24-36”

BLOOM SEASONS   late summer, fall

SOURCE   North Carolina, America, United States

LIGHT   full sun


Choose a sunny to lightly shaded site that you can keep relatively dry in summer. Surprise lilies bloom best when given a dry resting period after their foliage withers in early summer. (This may be why they are often seen in low-maintenance lawns — or are they simply the only survivors of earlier flower beds that have been grassed-over?)

Plant so the neck is just below the soil line, or about 5” deep to the base of the bulbs, and about 6” apart center to center. Water well. Their first winter in colder zones, protect with a thick but airy mulch (straw, oak leaves, etc.).

Leaves emerge in the spring, looking like those of giant daffodils. They eventually mature and fade and the plant goes dormant for six to ten weeks before the flowers burst forth in late summer.

Lycoris resent transplanting and are slow to re-establish themselves. Don’t be surprised if they don’t bloom till the second fall after planting. This is common (unless a neighbor has given you a freshly dug shovelfull). We hope you’ll be patient with Mother Nature!

Learn more about growing and enjoying surprise lilies at our Fall Diverse Newsletter Archives.