For me one of the best things about gardening is that everything is always changing, and I'm often surprised by what goes on in front of me every day. True, not all of the surprises are good (wow, look how big and healthy that crabgrass plant is!), but there are enough good ones to keep things exciting.

Today is a great example of that, as the surprise lilies have started to bloom. I've been growing these for at least five years, so I really shouldn't be surprised by them -- but I always am.


I originally got these bulbs from my mother-in-law. When she was moving out of her old house after decades, she said I should dig some of the "surprise lilies" up. Not knowing what they were I started digging in the area that she indicated.

You see, what gives this plant its name is the way that the foliage emerges (usually very early in the season -- it's one of my first signs of spring), then grows, then withers and disappears by mid-summer. There's no sign of the plants left at all...

...until later in the summer when they throw up their flower stalks, topped with wonderful pink blooms with touches of orange and yellow. The stalks grow very quickly, from nothing to blooming in just  few days, and the other common names for this plant are "magic lily", "resurrection lily", and "naked ladies" -- although I've always heard them called "surprise lilies" here in St. Louis.

The bulbs multiply too, so what was once a single plant will eventually form a nice clump. This is why my mother-in-law was so unconcerned about my digging them up. If I accidentally sliced a few of the bulbs while digging to find them, what does it matter? There will be triple the number of bulbs in a couple of years anyway.

 I should also mention that that these plants are about as easy to care for as any plant in my yard. I never water them and they're planted in dry spots in my unamended clay soil. They get part sun to mostly shade in my yard so I'm not sure how they'd handle full sun, but I expect they will do well almost anywhere.

I can't remember if I've ever seen any deer damage on them, even though their tasty-looking greenery emerges before there is much choice for the herbivores in my area, although they've probably been nibbled. The flower stalks and buds have never been chomped though -- that I know for certain.

Speaking of flower stalks, since mine are planted where nothing else is, I mow the area after the foliage disappears. This means that when the stalks emerge they're standing tall above the ground, like a miniature version of the nearby bamboo -- but topped by beautiful clusters of blooms.

The only drawback to this plant is that the blooming period is pretty short -- just a couple of weeks at most.

Still, that's a minor drawback. A plant that I never need to do anything to, can plant almost anywhere, that multiplies and then blooms with wild abandon and the animals won't touch?  Yes please!

I guess the only thing that really surprises me about this plant is that I like it so much.

Although I'm still caught off guard every year when the blooms show up.


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (August 15, 2011 at 10:17 AM)  

These look very similar to but not quite the same as our naked ladies, which are in bloom right now as well. I noticed a clump in front of a bank in downtown Davis yesterday and the bulbs were sitting ON TOP of the soil. They're tough as nails for sure.

GonSS  – (August 15, 2011 at 5:08 PM)  

They are a surprise every year! This year I only got one but I photographed it!

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