News release: Surprise Lily

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: August 21, 2014

Headline: Surprise Lily

In late July and August, you can sometimes see beautiful, showy flowers which are over a foot off the ground supported by a single stalk.  These seem to pop up almost overnight, and have no foliage associated with them.  These unusual plants have been given the appropriate name, “surprise lily.”  If you have seen these attractive flowers and would like to have some in your yard, now is the time of year to plant them.

Surprise lilies are in the Amaryllis family, in the genus Lycoris.  There are more than 11 species of Lycoris, but most are not hardy enough to grow in Missouri.  The surprise lily is Lycoris squamigera, and should be hardy throughout most of Missouri.

Surprise lilies are interesting plants. In northwest Missouri, they will send up foliage in the spring, but no flowers. The leaves should not be removed until they turn yellow, collapse and die.  The reason is that they are photosynthesizing, and making food for the bulb to store, which then produces the flower. 

In summer, perhaps late July or early August, the plant will send up its flowers. The flowers are produced from the bulb, which sends its flower clusters from 18 to 24 inches off of the ground, even higher in some plants. 

 Lycoris bulbs will multiply, and may eventually become too crowded.  At this point, division and transplanting will become necessary.  These bulbs should be planted 4 to 6 inches deep, in the fall, after flowering has ended.  The best site for them is in full sun, although they will tolerate a light amount of shade.  Be sure to pick a site that is well-drained.

Smaller offset bulbs which the plant produces may be planted as well.  These will eventually flower, but may take several years to do so.  Be sure to leave the foliage they produce, to help them gain size more quickly.

Generally, surprise lilies are free of pests and diseases.  Usually the only insects which may bother them are grasshoppers, which devour the flowers and stems quickly.  This usually isn’t a problem except when grasshopper populations are extremely high.