October 9, 2015
By Linda Yates
Count us lucky when a hurricane or tropical storm, after playing havoc in the Caribbean, veers east of Florida and blows itself away in the Atlantic. We get some much needed rain and cooler air for a day or two.
In September and October a growing number of local gardeners call themselves triply blessed, because almost overnight two-foot tall green stalks emerge in their flowerbeds. Large red, white or yellow blossoms with long projecting stamens open atop each stem.
The spectacular flowers are Lycoris, commonly called hurricane lilies, because they appear almost magically after a heavy rain in the fall. It doesn’t have to be a hurricane, just a downpour after a dry spell. Sometimes they are called magic lilies because the tall stem and flower shoot up even though there has been no plant visible above ground. Still others call this member of the amaryllis family, the resurrection lily, while others name it spider lily for the delicate configuration of its stamen. (You may begin to see why it’s wise to use botanical names when choosing plants.)
By any name, even a single specimen of this lily delights the eye when it appears in the middle of a sweeping lawn, in the dooryard of a small cottage, or in your own flowerbed where the gift bulb someone gave you two years ago suddenly appears.
On a visit to the backyard of Liz and Spencer Cullen in east Tallahassee in mid-September I was overwhelmed by a spectacular mass of golden spider or hurricane lilies, Lycoris aurea, that filled borders on three sides. The day was partly cloudy but their blossoms radiated sunshine of their own. A few red varieties, Lycoris radiata, slipped into the mix, and pink Jacobina which usually “owns” the beds were all but crowded out for the brief season hurricane lilies grow.
The Cullens had digging privileges in the yard of an old house being renovated for an office on East Park Avenue years ago when they first struck the magic gold. Lycoris live for a very long time and the golden yellow lilies have thrived and multiplied in the Cullens’ yard.
The blossoms fade in about three weeks, but may be prolonged by regular watering. Then a mound of leaves appears around the yellowing stem, survive the winter, and die back in late spring. No sign of the plant is visible until the following September.
The species originated in China, Korea and Nepal and then was introduced into Japan. When Japanese ports were opened for US trade in 1854, the first of the species was brought to America. There are many colors but red, yellow and a few white grow best in the warmer climes of agricultural zones 5 to 10. A word of caution: The bulbs are poisonous. They present danger for children and pets but the lilies are safeguarded from rodents and deer.
Linda Yates is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Service. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov