By any name, blooms worthy of wonder

By any name, blooms worthy of wonder

I’ve had the fortunate happenstance to be caught in the rain on a number of recent bicycle rides. While riding while wet isn’t at the top of my list of favorites, I had been watching the corn grow more thirsty by the day on my commute to and from work, and I figured a little rain might do both of us some good.

Rain without lightning, especially on a 90 F day, can be more than a little refreshing. As the steam rises from the pavement in the misty afterglow of a passing shower, you can almost hear the corn growing as you pedal by.

As an added bonus to the joy of an occasional cool shower, I’ve watched my garden and flowerbeds rise from the ashes of a scorching July. Some surprises have popped up along the way as well. Just the other day I rolled into the drive to find an entire sorority of naked ladies standing beside my house!

Before you pick up your pen and begin a strongly worded Letter to the Editor, let me clarify. These particular naked ladies, lean-legged and breathlessly graceful, had sprung from the ground right where they were standing. The naked lady flower has an ephemeral beauty all its own and a wonderful habit of emerging just when you think the summer sun has toasted everything beautiful into tinder-brown thatch.

A cousin of mine in Texas saw a photo of the blossoms I’d posted online and suggested I be careful about calling them “naked ladies” everywhere, as the name seems to have a bit of colloquial slant. Janice went on to say in Texas where she lives, “They’d laugh me out of the garden center if I used that term.”

Like so many things, the favored name for Lycoris squamigera varies widely from one region to the next. I’m guessing resurrection lily likely wins there in the Bible Belt, but magic lily, mystery lily, upstart and naked lady each find favor in some other locality.

To make matters even more confusing, the name naked lady flower is actually used for two entirely separate yet surprisingly similar-looking species: the Lycoris that grows in my yard and Amaryllis belladonna, which translates from the Latin as beautiful woman.

The common denominator for both species is beautiful blossoms atop naked stems. I’ve often wondered how this flower, which seems to leap from the ground to blossom at knee height almost overnight, even gets the energy to grow. How does it produce both stem and blossom without a single shred of foliage to gather sunlight and make energy? The secret is in timing.

All throughout the spring and early summer while I’m joyfully distracted by the progression of daffodil, tulip, iris and day lily, Lycoris is leafing out in the flowerbed, inconspicuously sucking up sunlight and loading up its underground bulb with starch like a chipmunk hoarding acorns for a long winter. When temperatures soar and rainfall diminishes, the plant sacrifices every shred of foliage rather than risk losing moisture in a daily fight with the sun.

Just when it seems like the plant has given up the ghost, it shoots forth a big, beautiful, pale purple cluster of flowers just in time for butterflies and other high summer pollinators to take advantage. I’m thankful for that rebound.

Once you know that backstory, the name resurrection lily makes just as much sense as naked lady — and might be far less likely to land you in and awkward situation in a handful of southern states.

Write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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