Saturday, August 14, 2010

Naked Ladies Show Off Their Assets

Lycoris squamigera just started blooming this week in my landscape. Other common names include surprise lily, resurrection lily, and magic lily. Their common name in Florida, hurricane lily, results from their blooming period coinciding with the height of the hurricane season. The reason for the other common names is apparent to any who have grown them.

After sending up a dense bunch of daffodil-like leaves early in Spring (in fact, my first season here in 1998, that's what I thought they were), they die back and disappear, only to re-emerge, seemingly overnight, in all their nekkid glory in mid-summer.

The fragrant pale lavender blooms sit atop a bare 2-3 foot stem. They are in the same Amaryllis family as daffodils, and like their narcissus cousins, are poisonous, and therefore deer and critter resistant. According to this University of Florida fact sheet:
Lycoris species have long been used as garden flowers in their native habitats of China and Japan, particularly around temples, graveyards and cultivated fields. One common name in China can be translated as “stone garlic” and another mentions the legendary Chinese ghost-catcher, Chung Kwei. The first name refers to the onion-like bulbs and the second to the poisonous components in Lycoris that would allow Chung Kwei to easily capture the ghost of any hapless bulb-eater mistaking it for garlic.

Bulbs of all Lycoris species contain the alkaloid poison, lycorine, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and sometimes death in humans and other animals. Although Lycoris bulbs are considered to have low toxicity, homeowners should be aware of the poisonous potential of hurricane lilies, particularly if small children and pets are present. On the other hand, this poisonous component has the benefit of making hurricane lilies resistant to damage from deer and rodents. The Japanese exploited this poisonous aspect of Lycoris species by planting them along the edges of rice paddies, presumably to discourage mice.

Another alkaloid component is galantamine, which is used in medications to treat Alzheimers-type dementia. Lycoris is being grown in plantations in China for mass harvest to extract this compound.

The literature recommends dividing the bulbs every 3-5 years and the best time to do that is early summer during their dormant period after the leaves have died down, but before blooming. They're a difficult sell to folks unfamiliar with them, since their Spring foliage is pretty ragged at plant sale time, but since they bloom in the middle of summer when many garden flowers are spent, and before the fall blooming ones open, they provide a welcome splash of color in the home landscape.

1 comment:

  1. Finally I have found what my flowers are called. I thought they were Agapanthas, I could not figure out why they kept dying off. Beatiful flower, my husband and I call them Trifids, they are almost alien like when the stem of the flower begins