BY MARY LOU MAYFIELD
When we moved to Iowa in March of 2013, we were looking at established gardens and wondering, “What’s coming up?” One mystery was a bed of strap-like leaves that came up in the spring and died back in the summer without blooming. What went wrong? Then late summer came, and large buds were poking up from the dead leaves, buds that look like the popular holiday Amaryllis.
Could it be related to Amaryllis? And surprise… the bud stalks grew like a long-legged “naked lady,” and had beautiful pink Amaryllis flowers! It was then that I remembered the hardy “September lilies” that bloomed around my home in Georgia. A smaller species of Amaryllis, they also grew leaves in the spring that died back in the summer and had red-orange blooms in the fall. It turns out that there are several species in the genus Lycoris, with common names indicating the nature of the plant: Surprise Lily, Magic Lily, Mystery Lily, Resurrection Lily, etc.
Some are called “spider” lilies, not to be confused with Hymenocallis, which is a different genus. The popular holiday flower commonly called “Amaryllis,” is a Hippeastrum. The true Amaryllis is the Belladonna Lily. Other relatives include Narcissus (Daffodils), Galanthus (Snowdrops), and Leucojum (Snowflakes). When we moved in, there were just a few Surprise lilies, planted close to the entrance of the storage area under the addition to our house. I dug them up and moved them a few feet to a place where they were less likely to be stepped on. They didn’t bloom the next year, but the following year they did. Since then, the clump has grown from 6-8 blooms to 20 or more!
I also enjoy growing the holiday “Amaryllis.” After the bulbs bloom, I store them in a sunny basement window until the leaves die down. I then put them in a dark corner and let them dry out. When they start showing leaves or flower buds, I bring them up and put them in a sunny window until they bloom again! After blooming, I put them in a shady corner of the garden until they die back again (bringing them in if we get a frost before the leaves die back).
Incidentally, all members of the Amaryllis family can be toxic, which means you don’t want pets or small children to chew on them! Reasonable precautions should be taken when they are forced as house plants. My cats have always left them alone!