By: Nikki Phipps
Image by thatredhead4 Lycoris, referred to as the Magic or Surprise lily, is a fantastic group of nearly 20 known species of herbaceous perennial bulbs from China and Japan that are similar to the Nerines.
Flowers are produced in the fall followed by the strap like foliage. The foliage appears and then vanishes. When this foliage disappears, the bare flower stalks suddenly appear with their cluster of buds on top. The flowers then appear almost magically, hence its name of Magic or Surprise lily. These have also been called Hurricane lilies because they flower suddenly after heavy rains. Some of the species produce their foliage in autumn, while others, the hardier ones in colder climates, leaf out later, in early spring.
L. squamigera is of uncertain origins. It is also the hardiest member of the genus. This species has lilac-pink flowers and its gray-green leaves emerge in spring. They grow under big, old shade trees and bloom with abandon. The wild species are found in China growing in woodlands, in the shade of trees.
The Lycoris found in the southeastern states of the United States is usually L. radiata radiata. This species produces its foliage in autumn and grows all through the winter and has reddish-orange blooms. These two species (radiata and squamigera) are the only Lycoris commonly found in cultivation in North America.
L. sprengeri is smaller than the others but more than compensates by its vivid color scheme of pink with an electric-blue highlight on the petals.
L. chinensis is a rich buttery-yellow and similar in form to L. radiata. It blooms at mid-season.
L. longitube is a nearly white trumpet form that appears to be quite hardy. It also blooms early. The wide, strap-like foliage appears in spring.
A lovely pale yellow lycoris is L. caldwellii. This species produces its foliage in spring, like squamigera, and appears later than the others, blooming around the first of autumn.
L. aurea produces trumpet-shaped flowers. Its bluish foliage appears in fall.
Lycoris do not like to be disturbed but may need to be divided every few years to prevent over crowding. Divide clumps during dormancy. When you divide old plantings (lycoris normally increases by offsets), the bulbs should be replanted at immediately, keeping the roots intact and moist. After planting, expect most new bulbs to remain unnoticed for a season or two. You may not see any foliage or flowers the following season, but they should eventually send up foliage and thereafter bloom in season. In cold climates, only the varieties and species which produce their foliage in spring and early summer can be expected to do well.
Plant lycoris bulbs deeply, about 6 inches and twice as deep in colder areas, in late summer or fall. They prefer to be located in rich, moist soil in semi-shaded areas.
A natural setting in open woodlands is an ideal location for these bulbs. Lycoris can also be planted along the edges of woodlands, shrub borders, and beneath trees. Most species have spidery-looking flowers, lasting approximately 2 weeks and make excellent cut flowers. Multiplies well over time, once established, giving a good show when there is little else blooming in the garden.