Lycoris, Naked Ladies & Surprise Lily

Lycoris, also known as Magic lilies, Hardy Amaryllis, Naked Ladies, Resurrection Lilies, or Surprise Lilies, are a member of the amaryllis family and are native to China and Japan.

One of the problems with this family of plants is that the names are terribly messed up. The plants have been grown and hybridized for years in their native China and Japan yet when they arrived in the west, botanists thought some of the hybrids were species. This means that plants such as L. squamigera (a very commonly sold plant) are not really species. Instead it is an F1 hybrid between L. sprengeri and L. straminea.

For the home gardener - the odds are that you're purchasing Lycoris sprengeri rather than Lycoris squamigera as there is also confusion in production nurseries.

My advice is to buy on flower color rather than name to ensure you get the plant you're looking for.

How to Grow

This plant loves rich, well-drained soils and doesn't do well in sandy or clay soils.

Loves full hot sun or part shade.

Depending on the species (described below), Lycoris reach 18-36 inches tall.

Plant the bulbs so the bottom of the bulb is twice the height - usually around 5-inches deep. Generally speaking, once you've got them established, they'll multiply themselves.

Hardiness range is USDA zone 6-10 depending on species. Lycoris is not a plant for the northern gardener because of its growth habit (see below). If you have a Mediterranean climate, you can grow this plant, otherwise consider growing it in a container.

Growth Habits

Here's the important part. Flowers are produced on leafless stems, in clusters of 6-12 blooms in late summer or early fall.

Leaves appear after the flower stalks. Some species appear right after the flowers and grow and replenish the bulbs in the fall. Others appear in the early spring and then go dormant all summer. But the flower stalks come first and then the leaves come afterwards.

In warmer climates, without a hard freeze, these leaves can survive the winter and then fade away in early spring before the flower stalks emerge. In northern gardens, the bulbs simply freeze and die.

Northern gardeners can dig the bulbs in the late fall and store them indoors in a dry/cool place. The problem with this is that sometimes the late-leafing plants will not produce enough energy to replenish the bulb before frost kills off the leaves/bulb.

Because they bloom on leafless stalks, it is a really good idea to hide them behind other plants so when the flower stalks are finished, the bare ground around them is disguised/hidden by other plants.

Special Note

In China where this plant is native, the common names translate as "stone garlic" that refer to the onion like bulb.


These bulbs are inedible and are indeed quite poisonous.


L. albiflora: leaves appearing in spring, Flowers 6-8 per umbel, pink bud opens to yellow and pales with age. Widely grown in China and Japan, an F1 hybrid between L. radiata and L. traubii.

L. anhuiensis: leaves appearing in spring, flowers 4-6 per umbel and pure yellow.

L. argentea: leaves glaucous, flowers trumpet-shaped, blue-mauve with a mauve ridge. Related to L. sprengeri.

L. aurea: leaves appearing in autumn in the commonly cultivated forms. Flowers 4-7 per umbel, trumpet-shaped, yellow.

L. aurea var. angustitepala: has narrower tepals, and stamens up to twice as long as the perianth.

L. caldwellii: leaves appearing in spring, Flowers 6-7 per umbel; pure yellow but fading to cream. Apparently an allotriploid hybrid.

L. chinensis var. chinensis: leaves appearing in spring, flowers 5-6 per umbel and pure yellow. Related to L. aurea.

L. elsiae: leaves appearing in autumn, flowers 5-8 per umbel, cream at first with apricot tones inside. While it resembles L. houdyshelii, it is thought to be yet another hybrid of L. radiata.

L. flavescens M.Kim & S.Lee var. flavescens: a sterile allotriploid with 2n=19, endemic to south-western Korea; Hsu et al. (1994) and Lee et al. (2001) suggest that this originated as a hybrid of L. chinensis and L. sanguinea var. koreana. Flowers pale yellow.

L. flavescens M.Kim & S.Lee var. uydoensis M.Kim: flowers larger, ivory-white.

L. houdyshelii: leaves appearing in autumn. Flowers 4-7 per umbel and white.

L. incarnata: leaves appear in spring. Flowers about 8 per umbel, fragrant at evening, and white with maroon stripe. L. sperengeri is often sold as this plant.

L. radiata: leaves appear in autumn, flowers 4-7 per umbel and are red.

L. rosea: leaves appear in autumn, flowers 4-6 per umbel and pure pink.

L. sanguinea var. sanguinea: leaves appear in spring, flowers 3-5 per umbel and orange-red.

L. sprengeri: leaves appear in early spring, flowers 4-6 per umbel and rose-pink with blue lobes.

L. squamigera: leaves appear in autumn in mild climates, but often renewed in spring. Flowers 4-8 per umbel (wild) or 7-12 per umbel (cultivated) and magenta-pink. A F1 hybrid between L. sprengeri and L. straminea. Sometimes plants sold as L. squamigera are really L. sprengeri.

L. straminea: leaves appearing in autumn, or in spring in colder climates; flowers 5-7 per umbel and golden-yellow.

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