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Lifestyle

Magic lily is popping up in country gardens

The magic lily – now you see it; now you don't.
The magic lily – now you see it; now you don't.

Now you see it. Now you don’t. This mysterious plant appears and disappears like magic during the growing season.

The magic lily is known by a variety of common names, including hardy amaryllis, magic lily, naked lady lily, pink lady lily, resurrection lily and surprise lily. All of these names refer to the exact same plant.

Time for science. While all of the above names are interesting and fun, it still is necessary to universally identify the plant by its botanical/scientific name, which is lycoris squamigera. The lycoris family in general is comprised of 10 to 13 species of bulbs. What sets lycoris squamigera apart from the rest of the family is its cold hardiness. This cold tolerance makes it a great plant for northern Illinois.

How did this plant end up with so many names? Most plants have a growth pattern that basically involves a plant starting out small, growing larger and then going to seed. This process occurs from spring to early fall.

The magic lily, however, has a very different growth process. This lily starts its life as a bulb. In spring, lush green, strappy leaves appear above ground, forming an attractive, healthy foliage display. Just as you are enjoying this display, the leaves suddenly turn yellow then brown and completely disappear in June. What is this plant doing? It is resting and gathering strength.

In August, suddenly 18-inch to 2-foot unbranched flower stalks begin to appear above ground. They grow rapidly and soon are topped with showy, tubular-shaped lily flowers. The lilies are pink with blue/lavender veining and are 3 to 4 inches across. This entire above-ground process is accomplished in six to eight days. This is truly magical.

If you would like to have some of these lilies in your garden, here are some helpful tips on how to care for them.

Lycoris squamigera prefers a full sun location, but will happily grow in part shade. Well-drained soil is recommended.

Purchased in the fall, plant these bulbs 5 to 6 inches apart in groups of three to five for maximum impact. They will naturalize into colonies over time. They do not like to be disturbed. If transplant or division is absolutely necessary, be sure to handle them carefully.

Most bulbs prefer a limited amount of watering to prevent them from rotting. Lycoris squamigera, however, can be watered freely with a multi purpose liquid fertilizer when above ground foliage is visible. It should be kept dry during its summer dormancy.

During the winter months, a mulch covering on these bulbs is beneficial.

Summer blooming lycoris squamigera can be a great and interesting addition to your garden. It blooms late when many of your other plants are fading. One of its best claims to fame is its winter hardiness surviving in Zones 5 to 9.

Begin now in August to watch for it as its cheerful pink blossoms will be popping up all over town and in country gardens. Consider adding a little magic to your home garden.

• The Master Gardener Help Desk is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gardening questions can be emailed to uiemg-dekalb@illinois.edu.

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