17 August 2011

Lycoris squamigera, Amaryllis belladona, Naked Ladies, Surprise Lily, Resurrection Lily, Hardy or Summer Amaryllis

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.

They are both great pass-along plants though most gardeners and plant retailers do not know the difference between them.

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.

Lycoris bulbs make offsets or small new bulbs around the base of the mother bulb, forming clumps that should be divided and transplanted when they are crowded.

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.

Dr. Shejbal, who works with Floriana Bulbose, said the “name comes from the Italian bella donna which means beautiful woman. The name was the object of a lot of controversy between botanists because of an error made by Linnaeus in 1753, who mixed up the Amaryllis from South Africa, known in Italy and Europe for centuries, with the amaryllids from the New World, that were classified as Hippeastrum in the early 19th century. But they are still known to many in the florist and nursery trades as Amaryllis.”

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.

Amaryllis belladonna bulbs are mango-sized, with very short and reduced or blunt necks with tunics of kraft-paper brown or paler with darker brown corduroy-like lines; if you try to pull the tunics apart, the natural latex in the tunic walls create hundreds of hair-like, stringy fibers  or web-like material. It is very distinct and a terrific natural protection mechanism for the bulb when it grows in the wild.”

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.

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