The large pink blossoms of the surprise lily resemble those of its cousin the amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.).
Surprise lily grows from a bulb about 2 in (5 cm) in diameter. In mid to late summer, usually after the fourth of July, it lives up to its name by erupting from the ground with inch-thick stems, 2 ft (0.6 m) tall, each topped with a cluster of 6-8 slightly nodding lilac pink flowers. The flowers are fragrant and striking in detail - like small amaryllis lilies with rose pink petals flushed with lavender highlights. They are funnel shaped with six lobes to the corolla, about 3 in (7.6 cm) long and an inch or two across. The whole surprise, from first emergence to full anthesis (bloom), takes only 4-5 days. The grayish straplike leaves do not appear until the following spring. They are about 1 ft (0.3 m) long and an inch wide, radiating out and flopping over from the base. The leaves are lush and attractive at first, but by early summer they look terrible as they wither away for another year. Hurricane lily (L. radiata), is similar in many respects, but it has red flowers and long stamens that extend way past the corolla.
Surprise lily comes from Japan or China. It is believed to be a hybrid between L. straminea and L/ incarnata, both native to the Orient.
Surprise lilies are surprisingly easy to grow in the garden or in containers.
Surprise lily thrives in both sandy and clayey soils, with acidic to alkaline reactions. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Surprise lily flowers best in full sun. Moisture: Surprise lily does fine with ordinary garden watering. It goes dormant in summer, after the foliage has died back and before the flowers emerge. During this period it needs virtually no water at all. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. This is the most cold hardy of the Lycoris species in cultivation. Propagation: The hybrid surprise lily is a triploid (has three instead of the normal two sets of chromosomes), and, like a mule, is sterile. Surprise lily produces large bulbs that multiply quickly. These can be divided every 3-5 years. Plant bulbs with their tops just an inch or two beneath the ground surface, deeper in colder regions. They will do just fine under a sodded lawn.
The surprise is: one day you're looking at an empty patch of ground, the next big bouquets of lovely lilies balanced upon long slender stems!
A cluster of surprise lilies makes a striking accent anywhere. You may want to use these in the semishaded woodland garden or along its edge where the messy withering foliage in early summer won't distract. But we like to see the flowers right out in the lawn! Damn the wilting leaves and damn the mowers! When the surprise lilies and hurricane lilies pop up, we mow around them. Many gardeners like to interplant surprise lilies, and other bulbs that flower before their leaves emerge, amongst perennials or at the back of a border. Like other members of the amaryllis family, this one is often grown as a potted plant.
Surprise lily is a robust and vigorous plant that requires no care at all. This is an old time southern garden favorite, a member of a group of summer and fall flowering bulbs that are sometimes referred to as "Guernsey lilies." It's hard to imagine a more beautiful flower that is so easy to grow. There are several species of summer or fall flowering Lycoris, and the unrelated autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), is yet another bulb that sends up a naked stem topped with showy flowers.