September 25, 2021
After I commented on the Naked Ladies that were withering in the mailbox planter several days ago, I was surprised by new growth this morning. The two Naked Lady lilies that had sprouted last week were now joined by eight new shoots poking almost a foot (30 centimeters) out of the ground. When I went back and checked last year’s post (Naked, August 26, 2020) on the flower I found that it had followed a similar pattern. Two shoots had grown up, blossomed, and had begun to wither only to be followed by the other eight. The difference this year is that it happened in late September, a month later than last year’s late August blooms.
When I rechecked the plants online, I found they were called Surprise lily (Lycoris squamigera), as well as naked lady and resurrection lily. Its common names come from its habit of growing leafless flower stalks and blooming after a brief period of summer dormancy. In this case it was nearly three months of dormancy. This was probably due to the extended heat spell, with temps finally falling into the high 50’sF at night this last week. The plants are called “resurrection” as the lush leaves die and wither prior to summer dormancy. They are called “naked” as the stalks (called scapes) shoot up months later without any accompanying leaves, but just bare stocks. They are called “surprise” because of the rapid growth as the 1-inch-thick, leafless stems suddenly pop from the ground. All three names are apt.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the shoots emerge from the ground. I had uncovered several of these waiting in the ground when I prepared the soil for the mum planting but had not recognized them to be the Ladies. I seem to forget about these flowers every year. Last year I got too close with my weed eater and cut two of the flowers down. I will try and be more careful this year. I learned another important fact online as well. If you repeatedly mow or cut it back the lush clumps of surprise lily’s springtime foliage, you will prevent the flowers and eventually kill the bulbs. Since they are in the planter, I avoid mowing them and although I pull the dead foliage, it usually takes a couple of weeks to happen. So far, this approach has worked.
Thoughts: I was not surprised to learn the plants need virtually no water after their foliage dies and they go dormant during the summer. I rarely water the mailbox planter. I allow the spring rains to work and then the plants are on their own. The hen and chick succulents do not care but the hibiscus has died back this year. The pruning guide suggests you cut any dead stems or branches down to about 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm.) in the fall and then apply a protective cover of mulch. I may try that as now it is hanging dead on its trellis. I am continually being surprised by the growth habits of all our plants. Each is unique and often quite specific. My ICU nurse friends tell me their covid patients constantly act surprised. They have gone from believing it to be a hoax, to refusing to be a sheep (vaccinate), to a hospital ventilator. While cases seem to again be on the decline, it is too late to be surprised for over 690,000 people in the US. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.