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How to Grow Resurrection Lily (Surprise Lily)

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

In August, resurrection lilies send up flower stalks but no leaves.

In August, resurrection lilies send up flower stalks but no leaves.

If you are looking for something unusual for your garden, I recommend the resurrection lily. After its leaves die in June, it surprises you with lovely flowers in August.

What are Resurrection Lilies?

Resurrection lilies (Lycoris squamigera) are a member of the amaryllis family. They are thought to have originated in China or Japan. They don’t occur in nature because they are a hybrid between L. straminea and L. incarnata. They spread readily. So readily that they have become naturalized in Korea.

The plants are called resurrection lilies because they grow leaves in the spring like other bulbs. The flowers appear later in the summer after the leaves have died making it seem as though the plant has been “resurrected”. They are also called Surprise Lily, Magic Lily and Naked Lady (because the flowers appear without any leaves).

Resurrection lilies are hardy in zones 5 – 10. They are a great addition to your garden if you have a deer problem. Deer don’t eat them because the leaves are poisonous.

In the spring, the bulbs send up leaves that look a lot like daffodil leaves. They are about 15 – 18 inches tall. The leaves die in June after they have fulfilled their mission of producing food for the bulb. The bulbs then go dormant for the summer until the flower stalks start to grow.

The flower stalks appear, with no leaves, in late July or August. The bare flower stalks grow to 24 inches. Each stalk has 3-inch flowers that grow in groups of 6 – 8. The flowers look like lily flowers and can be either pink or white.

Are Resurrection Lilies Poisonous?

Resurrection lily bulbs look like onions but they are not edible. They contain an alkaloid that can cause vomiting and diarrhea and in extreme cases, convulsions and even death in both people and animals.

The leaves are also toxic which is why deer do not eat them.

Gardeners like to plant perennials around their resurrection lilies to hide their lack of foliage.

Gardeners like to plant perennials around their resurrection lilies to hide their lack of foliage.

How to Grow Resurrection Lilies

Resurrection lilies prefer full sun but will grow in partial shade as long as they receive afternoon sun. They need well-drained soil so that their bulbs do not rot. The bulbs should be planted when they are dormant, either in the summer or the fall.

Dig holes that are large enough to hold each bulb with the pointed end (where the leaves and flowers will grow) slightly above the soil. Space the bulbs 8 – 12 inches apart.

Give your bulbs 1 inch of water each week when they are actively growing. There is no need to water them while they are dormant during the summer.

Since the leaves will die in June and the flower stalks will be bare of foliage in August, most gardeners plant low growing perennials around the bulbs to hide the bare spots and lack of foliage. If you use a ground cover instead, the flower stalks will grow up through it with no problem.

How to Divide Resurrection Lilies

Eventually your lilies will become crowded and stop blooming well. It’s time to divide them. After the flowers fade but before the stalks die, carefully dig them up using a garden fork.

Because they are hybrids, these lilies do not produce seed. They reproduce via offsets. Offsets are just baby bulbs that are clones of the parent bulbs. The offsets grow around the outside of the parent bulbs.

After you have dug up your bulbs, you can carefully break off the offsets and plant them in their own holes with the pointed end slightly above the soil. Replace the parent bulbs in their original holes making sure that the pointed ends are above the soil. The offsets need time to grow to a size large enough to support flowers, about 2 years.

Don’t be tempted to plant them in a nursery bed until they are large enough to flower with the intention of transplanting them into your flower beds. Resurrection lilies do not like to be disturbed. In fact, the parent bulbs from which you removed the offsets may not bloom the following year because you dug them up and replanted them when you divided them. You might want to dig up and divide only a few bulbs each year so that you will have flowers from the undisturbed bulbs each year.

© 2020 Caren White


Caren White (author) on August 21, 2020:

The "surprise" when they start growing again is wonderful!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 20, 2020:

A friend gave me some bulbs and I planted them. I thought they were dead and felt bad that I didn't take good care of them. It looks like they are coming back and that gives me hope. Now it is good to know that there is a chance that they may bloom.

Caren White (author) on August 20, 2020:

I'm with you! Always on the lookout for plants that deer won't eat.

Abby Slutsky from America on August 19, 2020:

Well, to the extent I garden, I love plant that the deer hate. These look like a great addition to my garden. Your directions were very clear.