The blood lily show

By Ralph E. Mitchell

You may have never seen a blood lily, but to see one is enough to make you want one. At this time of year, the globular red flowerhead sneaks out in plain sight with a leafless surprise unparalleled by flowering bulbs. The blood lily show is relatively short, but has long-lasting impact on the landscape and eye-appeal.

Blood lilies begin with a bulb – not really a bulb – but a rhizome. While many plants in the Amaryllis family are bulbous, this one grows from a rhizome or thickened underground stem. In May, each plant sends up a flowerhead topped with a round powderpuff of a flower, red in color and up to six inches in diameter. The bright red flower cluster is made of numerous individual flowers (up to 200) which combine into a circular array of blooms. This flower cluster is followed by the development of a green seed capsule at the end of each flower stalk. This post-bloom seedhead manifestation is ornamental in its own right as a cluster of green spikes. Around nine whorled leaves up to eighteen inches long also follow the bloom and provide a luscious, tropical display through the summer.

Blood lilies do best in dappled shade or early morning sun followed by bright, indirect light – never in the full sun however. Allow the leaves to grow and flourish through the growing season. After that, the blood lily plant needs to dry off for the winter causing the foliage to dieback to the ground as the plant enters a period of dormancy.

Blood lily rhizomes can be started in containers or in light shaded landscape beds in our area. Plant the bulbs in late winter or early spring two-inches deep and six inches apart. Water to keep the soil evenly moist as the plant develops. Blood lilies do not like their roots disturbed, so only lift them to separate rhizome clumps every few years. Seed can develop and will germinate if used fresh off the plant. It will take about three years from seed to develop a blooming plant. A final word of caution is the fact that the blood lily is poisonous, so keep this in consideration with children and pets.

While you may find blood lily rhizomes for sale in local garden centers in season, you will likely have to check internet sites for availability. We planted some at our office and are now enjoying their beauty. Blood lilies, a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant, are truly an exotic flowering bulb which will amaze you and your friends! For more information on all types of flowering bulbs suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:

Brown, S. H. (2011) May and June Bloomer: Blood Lily. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Lee County
John McLaughlin (2008) A WORD OR TWO ABOUT GARDENING – There are amaryllids other than amaryllis for Miami-Dade. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Miami-Dade County
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.

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