Few plants are as welcome in southern gardens as the surprise lilies whose foliage emerges in either winter or spring, goes dormant by early summer, and then sends up bare flower stalks in late summer. Lycoris xhaywardii also known as the electric surprise lily for its shocking neon color is among our favorites. This species is widely believed to be a natural hybrid from Japan between L. radiata var. pumila and L. sprengeri. In many ways it is similar to L. sprengeri but is not as hardy and rarely (never?) produces seed. Some taxonomists do consider the electric surprise lily to be a true species. Its infertility is a good thing for gardeners since that means it expends all its energy in developing new bulbs and the flowers often last longer than many other species. Strappy foliage emerges in early spring and photosynthesizes for a couple of months before dying off. In late July or August, flower stalks to about 18 inches tall shoot from the ground and buds open revealing a rounded cluster of large flowers in bright pink with blue tips. Individual flowers look like a cross between an amaryllis and a deciduous azalea in shape and size and the unusual coloration is quite welcome in the late summer garden. Some surprise lilies have very short flowering periods in southern gardens but L xhaywardii will often last for several weeks.
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