Introducing Lycoris to U.S. Flower Lovers

Lee Poulsen
Tue, 13 Dec 2005 09:19:45 PST
Here's an interesting article about Lycoris. I find it interesting that 
despite people like Jim Waddick, Tony Avent, Kelly Irvin (Bulbmeister), 
Diana Chapman, and others, as well as all of our conversations about 
Lycoris in this forum, this article seems to think that no one in the 
U.S. knows about Lycoris or has been able to see or obtain them. Didn't 
Jim W. have an article about them in a mainstream magazine a couple of 
years ago?

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena area, California, USDA Zone 10a


Introducing Lycoris to U.S. Flower Lovers

For more than 20 years ARS horticulturist Mark Roh has been intrigued 
by the origins and habitats of the exotic and beautiful Lycoris.

  Though various Lycoris species have been grown as ornamentals in 
China, Korea, and Japan for many centuries, only two species are 
readily available here: L. squamigera and L. radiata. They—and the 
rarer L. incarnata, L. chejuensis, and L. flavescens—are maintained at 
the U.S. National Arboretum (USNA), in Washington, D.C., and in 
Beltsville, Maryland.

In 1984, Roh collected several unidentified Lycoris species from Anduck 
Valley, on Korea’s Jeju Island. This subtropical area hosts about 4,000 
species of plants. Then in 1998, more Lycoris species were collected in 
Japan, Korea, and China.

DNA molecular markers and chromosome studies proved that some of the 
unidentified Lycoris collected from Anduck Valley were L. incarnata, a 
species previously known to be native only to China. It is possible 
that this accession was brought from China to Korea by bulb collectors, 
but no record of that can be found.

In the past 6 years, extensive visits to areas near Anduck Valley have 
been made by Roh or by collaborators Mun Seok Seong, of Jeju-do 
Agricultural Research and Extension Services, and Yong Bong Park, of 
Jeju National University. But they have failed to locate any more L. 
incarnata there. They’ve only observed the Jeju Island native, L. 

It’s possible that L. incarnata bulbs were introduced deliberately or 
that a small population of L. incarnata might indeed have been native 
to Anduck Valley. If L. incarnata was previously native to Jeju Island, 
it is assumed that it is now locally extinct. If L. incarnata was 
introduced and can naturally hybridize with L. chejuensis, new species 
of hybrid origin could evolve; but then the genetic purity of L. 
chejuensis could be a concern.

Preserving germplasm at different locations will make it possible to 
maintain valuable materials permanently and allow sharing of the 
germplasm for future genetic studies. The 1984 collection of L. 
incarnata from Jeju Island and maintenance at USNA will guarantee 
proper preservation of this valuable germplasm for future generations. 
L. incarnata germplasm has been returned to Jeju-do, and bulbs will be 
planted in the Anduck Valley for restoration.

Roh has been able to study and successfully propagate various Lycoris 
species not before seen in this hemisphere. He has hybridized Lycoris, 
and the new hybrid could eventually be released as new cultivars.

All collected Lycoris germplasm is now maintained in USNA’s Asian 
Collections by Carole Bordelon, of the Gardens Unit, and in the 
greenhouse of the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit in 
Beltsville, where Roh works. Some newly introduced species bloomed for 
the first time at the arboretum in the summer of 2005.

A Pleasant Surprise

All Lycoris species have beautiful or unusual features that make them 
unique. It is affectionately called the “surprise lily” because of its 
rarity in this country and its elaborate flowering pattern. Its flower 
stalk measures about 10 to 20 inches tall with six to nine red, yellow, 
or white frilly flowers. Only the flower stalk projects from the ground 
when the plant is blooming. Resistant to pests, it’s also a very 
durable bulb, tolerating the extremes of drought and waterlogging, as 
well as poor soil conditions.

L. radiata was a popular plant in old southern U.S. gardens. Its small, 
narrow, straplike, blue-green leaves die away in early spring. Then, in 
August, a 15- to 20-inch spike shoots up from underground, which is why 
it is sometimes called the “resurrection lily.” Also called the red 
spider lily or red hurricane lily, it’s topped with a complex, 
bright-red flower with many very long stamens.

Unusual—Even Magical

The strange thing about L. radiata and other Lycoris is that they don’t 
flower every year, frustrating many growers. “This is a very 
interesting plant,” says Bordelon. “Visitors to the arboretum really 
like it. It’s not often you see something like this, a red plant 
without leaves.”

Blooms of L. squamigera, often called “magic lily,” are sometimes found 
around old houses, where they grow under big shade trees. In their 
native China, Japan, and Korea, wild species grow in shady woodlands, 
so USNA—home to thousands of trees—is a perfect location for this 
species. L. squamigera is grown throughout the arboretum grounds. The 
rare species, such as L. chinensis, L. chejuensis, and L. flavescens, 
could add even more beauty to USNA’s gardens, once cold hardiness is 

“Lycoris is not well-known by the American public,” says Roh. “We hope 
that by putting some of these new species on display, we can show 
Americans the beauty of this plant. This will perhaps encourage them to 
grow Lycoris for themselves.”—By Alfredo Flores, Agricultural Research 
Service Information Staff.

This research is part of Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic 
Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement, an ARS National Program 
(#301) described on the World Wide Web at

Mark S. Roh is in the USDA-ARS  Floral and Nursery Plants Research 
Unit, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 010A, Beltsville, MD 20705; phone 
(301) 504-5659, fax (301) 504-5096.

"Introducing Lycoris to U.S. Flower Lovers" was published in the 
December 2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine 

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