Most gardeners are so focused on the flowers of surprise lilies (Lycoris), they forget about the amazing foliage. There are two groups of surprise lilies: those which produce leaves in fall, and those which produce leaves in spring. The fall-leaf species and hybrids have foliage that emerges anywhere between September and November. With the hybrids, foliage emergence time depends on how many genes of each parent were passed along to the offspring.

The clump below, photographed this week, is Lycoris x straminea ‘Cream Frilling’, a hybrid of the spring-foliaged Lycoris chinensis and the fall-foliaged Lycoris radiata. In first generation hybrids like this, the fall-foliage characteristic is genetically dominant. The foliage on this cultivar emerges for us in late September, making it one of the earliest of this hybrid to emerge. That tells us that the Lycoris radiata genes are the most dominant in this selection. We have other selections of the same hybrid, whose foliage doesn’t emerge until late November. In that case, we know that the Lycoris chinensis parent is more dominant. In some cases, these late emergers may actually be a second generation backcross to the spring-foliage parent, which would make it 2 parts spring-emerging and 1 part fall-emerging.

Regardless, the key with lycoris is to allowing enough space when planting them, for the winter foliage to grow without covering smaller, nearby plants. It is also important to make sure they are not covered by other evergreen shrubs and perennials so the foliage receives enough light to produce energy to store for flowering.

Lycoris x straminea ‘Cream Frilling’

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