The appearance of Naked Ladies is a bright spot in the garden at this time of year.
Two separate plants are sold as Naked Ladies: Lycoris squamigera and Amaryllis belladonna.
You will soon be able to discover which one of these plant cousins you have in the garden because Lycoris squamigera has leaves only in the spring and Amaryllis belladonna makes leaves immediately after flowering.
To further confuse the bulb buying public, these two plants share common names including: Surprise Lily, Resurrection Lily, and Hardy or Summer Amaryllis.
Though they are cousins, Amaryllis Belladonna is from Africa and Lycoris squamigera is from China. Amaryllis Belladonna will only survive in southern climates, USDA zones 7-9. Lycoris will do well in USDA zones 6 to 8 and in zones 4-5 with mulch. Amaryllis Belladonna is toxic to deer and rodents; Lycoris is not.
The plant genus Lycoris, which includes Red Spider Lilies (Lycoris Radiata), was named for the Roman actress and her slave lover who were involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar. So the name Naked Lady could refer to more than the bare stems emerging leafless from the ground and producing scented pink to lavender flowers.
After Amaryllis Belladonna flowers die, the leaves appear and die again in the winter. Then, in the spring they reappear to grow a significant number of lily-like leaves to store food for the next summer’s flowers. This type of growth is called hysteranthy.
Naked Ladies are blooming in Rome, Italy now, too. Henry Shejbal posted Amaryllis Belladonna photos online at http://tinyurl.com/3e79wrh.
If you want to know precisely which you have, Jason Delaney, North Gardens Supervisor and Bulb Collections Specialist, at the Missouri Botanical Garden described the difference in an email.
“Amaryllis belladonna is not hardy north of the deep south and the west coast areas, so bulbs grown in the north would be Lycoris. Well grown Lycoris bulbs are often the size of a large apple, somewhat ovoid in shape with long, finger-like necks. They have flaky, papery tunics of deep coffee-to-greyish-brown. If you cut into a bulb, they are very succulent and milky white inside, and they almost always have a set of greenish leaves tucked in the middle, for the following growing season.
When shopping for Naked Lady bulbs, pay attention to hardiness zones and look at the plant photo. You will not necessarily get the correct plant by name. The flowering tropical house plants we know as Amaryllis are actually Hipeastrums.