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Surprise Lily Makes An Appearance

Ask the Expert: I may have old world day lily. The plant foliage comes up in spring and looks similar to daffodil, but larger. Leaves die back during July. After the leaves die, stem grows out of ground to the height of 3 ft. Each stem produces lily-like flowers 6 to each stem at the top of the stem in a circle.  They are white at edges pink at center. Six petals to each flower and delicate day lily look. If you have a clue let me know i will give more info. Donna

Plant Expert Reply:

Surprise Lily (Lycoris squamigera)

Surprise Lily (Lycoris squamigera)

I believe you have, what we call in the mid-south, a surprise lily.  So named because it seems overnight to pop up a bloom stalk with blooms and no appearance of leaves.  Surprise lilies (Lycoris squamigera) are sometimes called naked lily, resurrection lily, magic lily, mystery lily, hardy amaryllis, or Guernsey lily.  They come from a bulb and can be planted right under sod.

Nerine Bowdenii Spider Lily

Nerine Bowdenii Spider Lily

Another possibility is the Spider Lily (Nerine bowdenii) which is in the same family, Amaryllidaceae, as Lycoris.

In fact, the common names for each are often assigned to the other one as well.  For example Nerine is sometimes called surprise lily, Guernsey lily and are produced from a bulb just like Lycoris.

Each type of lily comes in a range of colors from white to purple and even a reddish color. They like full sun to partial shade, but full sun produces the best blooming.  Once planted they will come up year after year without much care.

In my area, we call this a homestead plant.  Many old homesteads have this flowering blooming in their yards.

For more information about the Lycoris squamigera, check out Floridata surprise lily page.

For more information about the Nerine bowdenii, check out Pacific Bulb Society Nerine page.

If your flower looks different, send me a picture and we will try to make a different identification.


  1. Debbie West says:

    My aunt gave me one of these a couple of years ago. It’s blooming now and looking beautiful. No care is needed, just stick in the bulb and leave it alone. We have clay soil which I’m constantly trying to soften with compost, so this is like a “miracle” lily as it’s a miracle that anything grows in our yard. ha! Our name for it in Arkansas is Resurrection Lily. Ours is a light piink, so beautiful, straight and tall.

    Attached Image: Pink Lilies & 4 o'clocks 7-23-09.jpg

  2. Thank you
    It appears to be a surprise lilly like you said.

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