Metro-East Living

Big plant from the South is in amaryllis family

Plant that hails from Mississippi is likely from the amaryllis family.
Plant that hails from Mississippi is likely from the amaryllis family.

Q: We have this plant we are trying to identify. The large ones have leaves about 8-feet long, 4-feet tall, and 5-inches wide. The flower stalks pop up in a few hours, take a few days to open fully and have 6 to 18 flowers from the bud. The flower stalks come from the side-underneath edge of the plant. Large bulbs form, which can be the size of a football. We got the bulbs from our grandfather who lives in Mississippi, and have been growing them for years. Every five to 10 years, we dig them up and divide them. What are they?

I.L.H. of Belleville

A: Your plants gave me a great history lesson. Dr. George R. Hall studied medicine at Harvard University and graduated in the class of 1846 and went to China to practice medicine. He abandoned his practice in 1854, went to Japan, collected plants and brought some of them back to Bristol, R.I. He made another trip in 1876 and returned with more plants. It is believed that he returned with a plant, Lycoris sanguinea, which is related to Lycoris squamigera (surprise lily) which he also brought back from Japan.

The second species is found in many gardens under many common names such as ‘naked ladies’, surprise lilies, resurrection lily, magic lily, and pink flamingo flower. Your plant is not so commonly grown, but is larger and has a larger bulb. It at one time was considered hardy only in the south, in places such as Mississippi; but as you can testify it is also hardy in the north.

Both of these plants are related to the amaryllis which is a large bulb plant often grown at Christmastime. But the amaryllis bulb is not hardy outside.

Q: We have tons of grass growing in our vegetable garden. We do not want to use an herbicide. What can we do?

L.H. of Collinsville

A: Determined weeds and grasses can be a big problem. But if you place down eight sheets of newspaper and overlap the edges, then cover this with a thick layer of heavy mulch, such as wood chips, you should be able to kill the weeds. After about two weeks, you can use soaker hoses or a sprinkler to water just the mulch to preserve an even soil moisture.

If you garden does not receive an inch of rainfall a week, you may need to water about once a week. The earlier the start you get with this mulch, the less problems you will have during the summer.

Q: I am trying to raise hosta plants, but there is some type of insect eating holes in the leaves. What can I do?

D. B. of Madison

A: Your hosta plants are probably being eaten by slugs. Slugs do not feed during the day, but at night. You can place a wide board on the soil near the plants and uncover it in the morning. Then, scrape the slugs into a container of a soapy solution to kill them. Slugs are also drawn to the odor of beer. You can use a saucer of beer and they will gladly kill themselves when the alcohol covers their layer of slime.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to mhouston@bnd.com.

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