The term "drought tolerant plant" has different meanings to different people. Here in our Raleigh, North Carolina garden, what we call drought tolerant plants tolerate our frequent 3-6 week long summer dry-spells or thrive even if we fall short of our normal 43 inches of annual rain. The terms drought-resistant, drought-adapted, low-water-use, waterwise, or xeric plants are commonly applied to these plants, too.
A gardener from Texas or Los-Angeles would laugh at our definition of drought tolerant plants as they may receive 10 inches or less of rain per year and can sometimes go for 6 months without a drop. However, some of the plants in our list below can even tolerate these parched conditions.
We have assembled a list of drought tolerant plants and drought resistant flowers from our enormous on-line catalog that (once established and rooted in) can tolerate long periods of time between rain events and/or can tolerate low annual rain totals. Our list of drought tolerant plants and drought resistant flowers includes plenty of southwest garden plants, desert plants, prairie plants and chaparral plants from around the world as well as some North Carolina native plants.
Notable drought tolerant plants include succulents like Agave, Aloe, Delosperma, Kniphofia, Opuntia, Sedum, Sempervivum and Yucca as well as flowering perennials like Achillea, Alstroemeria, Baptisia, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Euphorbia, Gaillardia, Lantana, Penstemon, Perovskia, and Salvia. Several bulbs make our list of drought tolerant plants such as Agapanthus, Allium, Anomatheca, Crinum, Crocosmia, Cyclamen and certain Iris, as do some herbs like Agastache, Calamintha, Lavandula, Origanum and Rosmarinus. Certain ornamental grasses like Arundo, Muhlenbergia and Stipa are drought tolerant plants as are a few ferns like Araiostegia and Cheilanthes. Several of the cold hardy palm trees (e.g., Brahea, Butia, Chamaerops), and some of the conifers like Juniperus and Thuja are drought tolerant plants too. Some plants may surprise you with their ability to withstand dry conditions such as Alcea, Antirrhinum, Arisaema, Aster, Asclepias, Caryopteris, Buddleia, Helianthus, Hemerocallis, Liriope, Trachelospermum, and Vinca. These are just a few of the hundreds of waterwise gems in our on-line plant catalog.
Gardeners can improve their garden's drought performance by improving moisture control during dry periods. Start by preparing your soil with plenty of composted organic material and covering it with a thick layer of mulch. You can also trap as much rain as possible by building a rain garden or installing a rain barrel. Gardeners using drought tolerant plants will need to consider winter moisture, too. Several of the plants on our drought tolerant plant list do not like wet winters and will need to be planted in a raised bed or on a slope. When you are ready to buy drought tolerant plants and drought resistant flowers for your perennial garden, check out our online list of drought tolerant plants for sale.
Thanks to Bob Snyder for sharing this deer-resistant hardy lantana he grows in his garden 2 hours west (colder) of PDN. Lantana 'Ham and Eggs' is an old, sterile cultivar that has been passed along in the Southeast for many years. Lantana 'Ham and Eggs' is topped from early summer until fall with flowers that open pink (RHS 73B) and then develop a central pattern of flowers which are cream with a golden eye...a summer delight for hummingbirds. Occasionally there is a slight tinge of orange in the flower...a real show stopper!
This selection of lantana was introduced by Goodness Grows Nursery in Georgia, from...who else?...Miss Huff of nearby Athens. In our trials, this is the hardiest lantana, with well-established clumps surviving short durations of -3 degrees F. The deer-resistant plants emerge from the ground in early May and, within a couple of weeks, are topped with showy orange (RHS 28A), yellow (RHS 17A), and pink flower heads that are produced nonstop until frost. Virtual sterility also prevents unwanted seedlings and promotes more flowering...and more hummingbirds. Established clumps will get quite large (to 10' spread) when happy! For full hardiness, establish well prior to winter. Do not cut old stems in fall or winter when grown in marginal climates.
This way cool sport of Lantana 'Miss Huff' was discovered by PDN customer, NC's Robert Hughes. The fast growing Lantana 'Southern Fried' forms a 3' tall x 6' wide clump in one season, sporting leaves of green with a misty yellow speckling. As the night temperatures cool, the deer-resistant leaves become bright gold with a faint green speckling. All summer the clumps are topped with the typical orange and yellow flowers of its hummingbird-approved parent. We are particularly taken with this splendid new introduction!
After 6 years of trialing, we are pleased to add another lantana to the list of hardy cultivars. Lantana 'Star Landing' is a deer-resistant seedling selection from Larry Force of Desoto Co., Mississippi. Lantana 'Star Landing' makes a wide spreading clump to 2' tall x 8' wide, topped all summer with bright flower heads of both yellow-orange (RHS 28A) and red-orange (RHS 42A) on the same flower...a hummingbird fiesta. It does not have the pink coloration as seen in Lantana 'Miss Huff'. It has proven to be sterile unless planted in the presence of another cultivar, when the urge to procreate just becomes too overwhelming. As with all hardy lantanas, don't cut the old stalks back until growth resumes in spring.
This Mike Dirr introduction popped up as a spontaneous seedling in the Dirr's temporary residence in Chapel Hill, NC...obviously a cross of Lantana 'New Gold' (Lantana camara x Lantana montevidensis) and Lantana camara 'Miss Huff'. Lantana 'Chapel Hill Yellow' has been an amazing plant in our trials, sailing through our 7 degree F winter in 2009. Be sure to allow enough room, as our 1.5 year-old clump is now 2' (0.33 Dirrs) tall x 14' (2.3 Dirrs) wide. For us, the clump is topped with clusters of bright yellow flowers from early June until frost...a deer-resistant, hummingbird-inviting flowering machine.
Lavandula 'Anouk' is a Dutch selection of the Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoechas, from Lammert Koning of Holland, who claims it is winter hardy to Zone 5b...which would be great, if true. 'Anouk' lavender was selected for its excellent outward branching but compact habit...2' tall x 8' wide in 5 years. The woody stems are adorned with pencil lead-thin, fragrant grey leaves. Each branch is topped, starting in late April and continuing for months, with short spikes ending in dark purple flower heads with light lavender upright tails. We have always found Lavandula stoechas to be one of the best lavender species for hot, humid climates...incredibly drought-tolerant once established!
(aka: Lavandula 'Niko') Lavender 'Phenomenal' is a 2012 introduction from our friends at Peace Tree Farms that began its life as an exceptional seedling from Lavandula 'Grosso'. Reviews from around the country have called Lavandula 'Phenomenal' the best lavender ever produced. In our trials, Phenomenal lavender has withstood heat and humidity better than any other Lavandula x intermedia we've trialed. That being said, wet soils in the heat of summer are still deadly. Lavandula 'Phenomenal' also has great winter survivability in cold climates without the winter dieback problems of other lavender clones. For us, Lavandula 'Phenomenal' makes a 30" tall x 3' wide clump of symmetrically arranged stems, clothed in fragrant silver foliage. The clumps are topped in midsummer with 5" lavender floral terminals at the end of each flower spike, giving the clump a 5' wide spread...simply delightful!
(aka: Scilla cooperi) Cute, cute, cute! This easy-to-grow little South African bulb is a delightful addition to the rock garden. The narrow, olive-green, 4" tall leaves with dark purple markings are held upright in what eventually becomes a nice colony (1' spread in 5 years). In early spring, Ledebouria cooperi clumps are adorned with miniature, pink, scilla-like racemes.
Ledebouria ovalifolia has quickly become a favorite South African hyacinth...a dwarf rock garden gem that has drawn the attention of everyone who sees it in the garden. Ledebouria ovalifolia (not to be confused with Ledebouria ovatifolia) comes to us from plantsman Aaron Floden, via its South African collector, Dawie Human of Lifestyle Seeds. In the wild, Ledebouria ovalifolia is found growing in coastal alkaline soils from the Western to the Southeastern Cape. In the garden, Ledebouria ovalifolia forms a small 6" tall x 10" wide, winter-deciduous mass of upright oval leaves (5" long x .5" wide). The bottom half of each glossy green leaf is dark purple on the outside, showing to great effect in the garden. In May and June, the clumps are further adorned by short 6" tall, thin flower spikes of tiny purple striped flowers with dark purple anthers. Where it isn't hardy, Ledebouria ovalifolia will make a superb patio container specimen.
This amazing form of a South African Ledebouria species that we thought was unpublished Ledebouria stenophylla (scilla relative) was introduced by the late California plantsman, Gary Hammer, and has proven to be reliable even through our wet, cold winters. The bulbs produce 1' long, deciduous, strap-like, grey-green leaves that are heavily spotted with random liver-colored patterns. Each easy-to-grow, 20" wide clump of Ledebouria 'Gary Hammer' looks great in the summer rock garden or as a seasonal container plant in colder climates.
From South Africa's Northern Province region of Limpopo comes the amazing giant ledebouria. Actually, it's not amazing that it comes from there, but it is amazing a plant from this region has proven reliably hardy for us since 2003. Looking more like a tropical houseplant, Ledebouria zebrina makes a 1' tall x 1' wide deciduous clump of large, fleshy, light green leaves, often highlighted on the back by small purple specks. Ledebouria zebrina clumps are adorned in mid-May with pendent bottle brush-like spikes emerging from the leaf axils...very cute!
(aka: Sedum texanum) You're probably asking yourself...what's a lenophyllum? Well, you're not alone...lenophyllum is a monotypic genus (there is only one) and a sedum relative from Texas, where it's known only from two Zone 9 coastal counties. It obviously didn't get the hardiness memo, as it's been fine here for the last 8 years. I could lie and say it's really attractive, but I won't. Don't get me wrong, it's not ugly...just think of it as Charlie Brown's sedum. The orostachys-like rosette phase is fairly attractive, but the semi-lax stems that follow, clothed with irregularly spaced succulent green leaves, just sort of lay there until they are ready to produce 1' tall stalks of small yellow flowers. So, why should you grow lenophyllum? Because it's native, it's lonely, and because none of your gardening friends will have one. Be aware that it may fall all to pieces in shipping, but just dump the pieces back in the pot and it'll be fine.
Thanks to Jimmy Turner, formerly of the Dallas Arboretum, for sharing this winter-hardy form of a plant that we had killed many times. This South African deer-resistant native is found growing in rocky grasslands where it makes a huge, 8' tall x 4' wide shrub. For us, Leonotis leonurus is a more demure dieback perennial (4' tall x 4' wide) composed of upright stems and narrow, fuzzy green leaves. In late October, the clumps burst into bloom with axillary flowers that resemble fuzzy orange golf balls. Leonotis must be kept very dry in winter when growing in climates with cold, wet winters. If that's not enough, Leonotis produces the chemical leonurine which, when smoked (especially the flowers), provides a euphoric feeling. We think growing the plant is euphoric enough. This multi-tasking plant can also be used to treat headaches, fevers, coughs, dysentery, snakebites, and an array of other ailments. How have you lived without a leonotis?
This unusual white-flowered form of Leonotis leonurus comes from California's Derick (Mr. Impatiens) Pitman. Each 3' tall x 3' wide deer-resistant clump of stems, clothed in narrow fuzzy-green leaves, is topped, starting in late October, with ball-like flower clusters along the flowering stems...rather alien-like...we like aliens!
If it looks like a salvia, flowers like a salvia, and even smells like a salvia...it must be Lepechinia hastata. This salvia relative is native to Hawaii but is amazingly winter hardy in NC. The large, deliciously-scented, spade-like, felty green leaves adorn the stalk that grows upright. In late summer it tops out at 4'+ with see-through flower spikes, composed of red-lavender lipstick-like flowers...a hummingbird treat. Lepechinia hastata is a great late season garden perennial...especially for a crowded border.
Thanks to plantsman Ted Stephens for bringing this wonderful deciduous perennial lespedeza back from Japan and making it available. Lespedeza 'Little Volcano' is a selection from the Ryukyu Islands, Japan. Lespedeza liukiuensis, unlike Lespedeza thunbergii, makes an upright clump instead of one whose branches are pendulous. The 6' tall x 12' wide mound of branches, clothed with small, dark green leaves, explodes, starting in mid-September, as the stems are smothered with bright red-purple flowers that last until mid-October...stunning!
Found at the old Gibraltar estate in Wilmington, Delaware, this spectacular lespedeza was selected and named by plantsman Bill Frederick. Our plant graces the top of our grotto with pea-like foliage on long, arching branches. Emerging from the ground each season, the branches quickly reach 6' tall x 12' wide. In late summer and fall, the branches of Lespedeza 'Gibralter' are laden with thousands of lavender-pink flowers...a great arching effect for a wall or mixed into a perennial border. Visitors who see this plant in flower have a quick attitude adjustment about lespedezas!
(syn: Lespedeza thunbergii 'Variegata') We are always on the lookout for plants whose foliage extends the season of interest well beyond their flowering season, and one such plant is Lespedeza thunbergii 'Spilt Milk'. This Japanese selection has foliage that is heavily and consistently speckled with large, creamy, irregular flecks. The attractive leaves are held along the arching stems, tinged dark purple as they grow. The 4' tall x 6' wide deciduous clumps are topped in midsummer and again in late September with terminal clusters of lavender flowers...a superb choice!
Lespedeza 'White Fountain' is a stunning perennial bush clover, introduced and named by Nancy Goodwin of Montrose Gardens, who found this on her property and realized it was much better than the Lespedeza thunbergii 'Albiflora' of the trade (earlier flowering and no color reversions). Cut to the ground in spring, this 6' tall x 12' wide deciduous grower will resprout rapidly, akin to the proverbial beanstalk. In late summer and into fall, the weeping branch tips of Lespedeza 'White Fountain' are clothed in sprays of white pea-like flowers!
We have been very pleased with the performance of this Japanese selection of their native shrub mint, which eventually forms a 3' tall x 3' wide mass of upright stems clothed in 6" long, golden yellow leaves. In areas with warm summer nights, the intensity of the leaf color may fade in summer, but cutting the plant back will cause the plant to reflush with brighter foliage. Leucosceptrum japonicum 'Gold Angel' is topped in October and November (NC) with terminal spikes of yellow bottlebrush-like flowers.
Leucosceptrum 'Silver Angel' is a unique selection of the shrubby Japanese woodland mint that forms a 3' tall x 3' wide clump, composed of irregularly serrate, oblong leaves that emerge green, then change to silver with an irregular green border. The clumps, which enlarge horizontally each year, are topped in October and November (NC) with short terminal spikes resembling yellow bottle brushes.
(syn: Comanthosphace stellipilum) Leucosceptrum 'October Moon' is a marvelous Japanese selection of their native mountain shrub mint. Unlike many members of the mint family, Leucosceptrum 'October Moon' stays in an 18" wide clump, sending out 3' long, upright, woody stems clothed with toothed 7" long x 4" wide, fuzzy green leaves, each edged in chartreuse gold. In mid-October the clumps are topped with short, upright, light pink, brush-like spikes. Leucosceptrum stellipilum is very easy to grow, thriving in an array of soil and moisture regimens.
We are pleased to offer the rare yellow-flowered form of the dwarf Asian (China, Japan, Korea, and Russia) Lilium concolor. Lilium concolor is a wide-ranging species that can be found in moist open grasslands from 800' to nearly 7,000' elevation, where it grows in both acidic and alkaline soils. In the garden, expect an 18" to 2' tall stalk topped, starting in early June (NC), with a terminal spray of mostly upward and occasionally outward facing 2" yellow flowers. We have found Lilium concolor quite easy to grow in a wide range of garden conditions. Our offering of the rare yellow-flowered form is very limited in quantity. If you ever get tired of having a gold Lilium concolor in your garden, you can always use it for one of its many medicinal qualities...as a sedative, to treat an array of congestive lung issues, ulcers and to reduce bodily swelling.
Virtually every year, this giant lowland form of the Taiwanese Lilium formosanum is one of our top selling plants. Just imagine a lily that enjoys heat, flowers the first year from seed, and eventually reaches more than 7' tall with a dozen or more 10" long, sweetly fragrant, pure white flowers in early August. After the flowers fade, the old seed stalks turn upward, making a classy candelabra that dries atop the stalk for a great winter ornament in the garden or for use in dried arrangements. I can't say enough good things about the easy-to-grow Lilium formosanum!
(aka: L. formosanum v. pricei A1TW-215) We were very excited to finally see Lilium formosanum in the wilds of Taiwan in 2008. Lilium formosanum has a wide range on the island, from the lowland subtropics where it reaches 7' tall to above the alpine tree line where it never exceeds 2' tall. This seed strain is from our collection at 9,343' elevation on Hehuan Mountain in Nantou County. In the garden, Lilium formosanum v. pricei flowers much earlier than the lowland form (early June in NC) and never exceeds 2' tall with its large, fragrant, horizontally-held, funnel-shaped white flowers, flushed purple on the back.
(syn: Lilium tigrinum) We are excited to be able to offer the very cool and hard-to-find double form of the great pass-along tiger lily, Lilium lancifolium 'Florepleno'. The sturdy 6-7' tall stately stalks are topped with clusters of fascinating large, double-petaled, reddish orange flowers in late August and September. Each stalk bears small black bulbils in the leaf axils that can be used to reproduce the plant. Its scarcity is no doubt due to the Lily Society snobs. In the book, "Lilies, a Guide for Growers and Collectors," the late Edward McRae writes, "The double flowered variety 'Florepleno' is unattractive in the eyes of most gardeners, indeed, almost grotesque." I say that beauty can only be in the eyes of the beholder if the upturned nose is first removed.
I knew I was in love again when Lilium maculatum ssp. davuricum forma rebunense first flowered in our garden in 2012. The dwarf Rebun Island lily is endemic to Japan's Rebun Island, north of Hokkaido (same latitude as Montreal, Canada), where it grows among the rocks along the seacoast. Rebun Island is known for its dwarf alpine plants and this form of Lilium maculatum ssp. davuricum is no exception. In our garden, Rebun lily tops out at an amazing 5" tall...that's right, 5" tall. The bright orange, spotted brown, upfacing flowers are absolutely exquisite...the classic, "Honey, I shrunk the lilies." Each plant is topped in spring with 3-5 upfacing flowers in mid-June (NC)...a perfect plant for the rock garden that will truly leave visitors scratching their heads.
Lilium 'Slate's Morning' is a recently introduced martagon lily hybrid, registered in 2011, that tops out in late spring with 4' tall spikes of pendent orange red flowers. Each flower is highlighted by a bright yellow eye-zone and small cinnamon spots. As with all martagon hybrids, light shade to morning sun and good drainage is perfect.
We originally obtained this virtually uncultivated liriope from a grower in China labeled as an Ophiopogon. Thanks to a project with NCSU DNA researcher Jason Lattier, we now know our plant to be the true Liriope graminifolia...a clone we named Liriope 'Porcupine'. The 10" tall x 2' wide, non-running clumps are composed of very narrow, very stiff, dark green leaves. In September, the clumps are adorned with very attractive 20" flower spikes of lavender flowers. In November, the fruits on the old flower stalk turn jet black. Liriope graminifolia 'Porcupine' provides a great non-spreading, light textural contrast in the woodland garden.
Liriope 'Okina' is a very cool selection of the clumping monkey grass that came to us from famed Japanese nurseryman Akira Shibamichi. In spring, the top 75% of each leaf is pure white. As Liriope 'Okina' matures through the growing season, the white becomes speckled with green flecks, eventually changing to flecked light green by fall (the coloration will hold better in cooler climates). In late summer, the clumps are topped with the typical stalks of lilac flowers. Liriope 'Okina' is truly a stunning plant that will stop visitors in their tracks!
Wow! From South Carolina's own Ursula Herz comes this incredible monkey grass that forms an 18" tall x 30" wide clump of brilliant golden foliage. In shade, the foliage of Liriope 'Peedee Ingot' fades to a chartreuse-green in late summer, but when grown with any sun exposure, the foliage remains bright gold all year. Liriope 'Peedee Ingot' (named after SC's Peedee River) makes a great golden textural accent in the garden, combining nicely with other contrasting colors. In late summer, the clumps are topped with typical 1' tall spikes of lilac-lavender flowers.
You want strange...can you handle strange? If so, we've got strange! Back in the early1990s we grew seed from the rare yellow-banded Liriope muscari 'Hawk's Feather'. A decade later we selected the best seedling and nearly two decades later we finally have enough to share. The upright, dark green leaves are heavily banded with wide horizontal yellow bands...most prominent on the new growth. The evergreen clumps are topped with short stalks of lavender flowers in midsummer. Imagine a woodland version of the Zebra miscanthus and you get the picture. Quantities are limited.
(aka: Liriope 'Tokai Wanami') Liriope muscari 'Tokai Rinpa' is a relatively new and exciting introduction from Japan. Liriope 'Tokai Rinpa', which means "round wave of Tokai", makes a tight 1' tall x 2' wide clump of dark black-green foliage with bright irregular horizontal bands of gold. Compared to Liriope 'Sideswiped', Liriope 'Tokai Rinpa' has darker green foliage, brighter patterns and has more of a spreading habit. The clumps are topped with short spikes of lavender flowers in late summer.
When we first got this plant from China in 2005, we knew we had something different...we just didn't know what. Liriope platyphylla makes a tight 18" tall x 4' wide clump of 2' long x 1" wide, arching, glossy dark green leaves. The 3' tall stalks of small lavender flowers top the clump in June and July. Some mothball-sniffing herbarium taxonomist went and lumped Liriope platyphylla in with Liriope muscari...no way, Jose. Too much naphthalene can do really strange things to your mind. Recent DNA research confirms our suspicions that Liriope platyphylla is indeed a distinct species. ..this is not your grandmother's Liriope muscari!
Forget what you know about lobelias and you'll be ready for Lobelia 'Candy Corn'. This unidentified Mexican species (possibly a sister genus Siphocampylus) makes a truly unique perennial, with tall stalks to 5'+, clothed with dark green leaves against the purple stems. Starting in late spring, the upper stalks are adorned with candy corn-like flowers of bright orange, ending with a reflexed yellow tip...very cool! A hummingbird favorite.
We are thrilled to offer the exciting new selection of the well-known Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold' that I first saw in the UK garden of Ashwood's John Massey. Lonicera 'Twiggy' makes a compact 2' tall x 2' wide shrub with twiggy growth, lined with tiny yellow leaves that hold their bright yellow color into the winter. I have seen literature from the UK that claims this cultivar will become taller than 2', but we haven't seen this to be the case in our trials. We're not sure if Lonicera 'Twiggy' was named for the twiggy growth or for a famed former model, who was also proportionally smaller in all parts.
This amazing Chinese native from several provinces including Sichuan, has been cultivated in Japan and England for nearly 300 years. This particular clone is quite sterile, indicating either the need for a mate or the fact that it has already had too many. Lychnis coronata 'Orange Sherbet' makes a tidy 1' tall x 1' wide mound of light green foliage topped, starting in late May, with 1" or wider light orange flowers that continue through most of the summer. This is a truly superb deer-resistant specimen for a part sun spot in the garden...very tolerant of a variety of soil types, but propagation will drive you nearly insane...we're proof!
Lychnis miqueliana 'Momobana' is a deer-resistant woodland perennial that hails from 5,000' elevation in the Japanese mountains of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. The upright stems of Lychnis miqueliana are clothed with small green leaves and topped with clusters of 1" fleshy-peach colored flowers from July-October...a time when very little is flowering in the woodland garden. Lychnis miqueliana 'Momobana' (translated as "pink flower") is unusual in color compared with typical vermilion flowers of this species. Lychnis miqueliana is best in open light shade or a couple of hours of sun in the morning.
(aka: Silene x robotii) This one had us stumped as it was first introduced under the invalid name, Silene x robotii, only to later become a Lychnis flos-jovis. Since Lychnis flos-jovis normally has white-hairy foliage, we won't rule out a yet unnamed baby daddy. Despite one parent hailing from the central European Alps, this Gerardus Oudshoorn hybrid has thrived in our hot, humid summers. For us, the deer-resistant, drought-tolerant Lychnis 'Rolly's Favorite' forms a compact 10" tall x 18" wide basal rosette of fuzzy green leaves, covered from mid-March (NC) through summer with 15" stalks, ending in masses of 1" dark pink flowers...quite stunning!
We are pleased to offer a superb strain of the true Lycoris aurea that hails from China's Guizhou Province. The short green leaves, which emerge just after flowering in October, make a small deer-resistant clump of foliage usually persisting all winter and finally disappearing in late spring. From a seemingly bare patch of ground, the 3' tall flower spikes emerge in September, topped with huge 10" flower heads composed of brilliant, ruffled, golden-yellow flowers. Without question, Lycoris aurea is the showstopper of the genus Lycoris. Plants from this population have proven to be reliably hardy into the single digits F in our trials.
This rare, naturally-occurring hybrid surprise lily (Lycoris straminea x Lycoris radiata var. pumila) is found in the Chinese provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang. It was first imported to the US in 1948 and named in 1957 by Dr. Traub in honor of bulb collector Cecil Houdyshel. The frilly, light-yellow flowers top the 20" tall stalks that seemingly appear from nowhere in mid- to late-August. Emerging from the center of the petals are long stamens, often tinged in light pink, like eyelashes on a lady of the evening. After flowering, the deer-resistant winter rosettes of 15" long basal leaves emerge in late September and persist all winter. This has been a superb and reliable bloomer for us.
Lycoris x houdyshelii 'Golden Panda' is our first clonally propagated selection of the wonderful Chinese surprise lily. Lycoris 'Golden Panda' emerges sans foliage in early September with 20" tall stalks ending in a large frilly flower, composed of narrow striped petals with a dark yellow center surrounded by a lighter yellow border. Like other sex organs, the stigma tips take on a dark pink tinge as they age. The foliage follows the flowers in late October and remains green until spring. Some sunlight when the foliage is green is essential for good growth and flowering. Our supplies are limited and this will not be offered again for several years.
I was at the garden of Texas plantsman Greg Grant when I first saw the peppermint surprise lily. I had grown lots of surprise lilies, but nothing like Lycoris incarnata. The Chinese Lycoris incarnata, from Yunnan and Hubei Provinces, produces 20" tall stalks in August with 6-9 frilly white flowers that have a red stripe down the center of each petal. Even before the buds open, Lycoris incarnata is truly superb...vaguely reminiscent of a miniature, lacy "milk-and-wine" crinum lily. To flower well, Lycoris incarnata seems to need a dry period during summer months. The foliage on Lycoris incarnata doesn't emerge until late winter, making it quite adaptable to much colder climates than the surprise lilies with fall-emerging foliage.
Originating from the Jiangsu and Anhui Provinces of China, Lycoris longituba most closely resembles a dwarf formosa lily, except without the foliage-clothed stalk. A 30" tall flowering stalk arises in August, topped with large clusters of pure white lily-like flowers. The glaucous foliage of Lycoris longituba emerges in late winter/early spring and goes dormant in late spring/early summer. For us, the long tubed surprise lily has proven to be one of the most winter hardy of all lycoris species and particularly easy to grow.
This deer-resistant southern heirloom bulb is one of the most popular plants in old southern gardens. The small, narrow, strap-like, blue-green leaves of Lycoris radiata go dormant in early spring. Then, seemingly out of nowhere in August, the 15" tall spikes emerge from underground, topped with a deciduous azalea-like flower of bright red. After the flowers of the red spider lily fade, the leaves emerge again and persist until spring, producing food for next year's flowering. Lycoris radiata doesn't always flower every year...we feel the flowering is probably controlled by aliens who like to torment Earth-bound gardeners.
Propagated from bulbs we received from China in 2008, this lycoris represents new genetics for Lycoris radiata var. pumila, a plant that has long been cultivated in the southeastern US, hence the new cultivar name. Lycoris 'Fire Engine' begins flowering for us in late August with magnificent heads of heavily-ruffled, fire engine red flowers. The most unique feature of this form is the purple-black 20" stalk that supports the flower. We assumed these were seedlings, but the uniformity made us reconsider that assumption. Like typical Lycoris radiata, the green ribbon-like fall foliage emerges in mid-October and lasts until April.
We are pleased to share another of the wonderful August flowering surprise lilies. The short lily-like leaves of Lycoris sanguinea var. kiusiana appear in late winter/early spring and go dormant by early summer. In midsummer, 1' tall stems appear seemingly overnight, and the flowers burst forth like a giant orange starburst. A mass of Lycoris sanguinea in the woodland garden is quite stunning. Remember that surprise lilies often take a year or two to settle in before deciding to flower, but summer moisture will greatly enhance summer flowering. Lycoris sanguinea var. kiusiana needs a really cold winter to flower well, so we have not found it to flower reliably in Zone 7b and south.
Lycoris x squamigera is the most well-known and easiest-to-grow of the surprise lilies, but one whose background is mysterious since it has never been seen in the wild. Recent DNA work shows it is a sterile hybrid between Lycoris sprengeri and Lycoris chinensis. The robust, 24" tall, "nekkid" scapes emerge from dormancy in late summer, topped with large, clear pink, outward-facing flowers. Lycoris x squamigera is great mixed into the border for a summer change or naturalized in the deciduous woodland garden. After flowering, the grey-green, strap-like foliage emerges to produce energy for next year's flowers. Lycoris x squamigera is a long-lived and durable deer-resistant bulb for a wide range of garden soils and sites. Lycoris x squamigera does require a cold winter to flower, so unless you enjoy it for the foliage, don't bother planting this in the Deep South.