If you’re a gardener, there stands a good chance that you have a photo gallery on your phone or social media featuring flowers with the ‘wow factor’ that you’ve either snapped in person or captured in the digital realm – you know, the kind where you have to talk yourself down from making yet another botanical adoption. We’ve all been there – and adopted many. The Aztec lily (Sprekelia formosissima) was like that for me, as its unique bright red flowers are simply irresistible. What is an Aztec lily? Read on to learn more and get the scoop on Aztec lily care.
What is an Aztec Lily?
Native to Mexico’s rocky hillsides, Aztec lilies are a member of the Amaryllis family, which you can distinguish as the flowers on this plant are actually a bit reminiscent of an amaryllis. The Aztec lily flower has six 6-inch (15 cm.) long petals in a unique configuration, which are at the apex of a foot long scape (leafless stem).
The top 3 petals are upright and curled back at the tips. The lower 3 petals hang downwards and are furled together a bit at the base enclosed over the stamens. The petal color most associated with Aztec lily is scarlet or crimson red; however, there are cultivars available with pink and white. The long and narrow dark green leaves of an Aztec lily tend to lose their perkiness as they get longer and are likened to that of a daffodil.
If you are seeking a bulb plant that reliably flowers every year, the Aztec lily may disappoint, as it appears to be a finicky sort. In a perennial outdoor planting, blooming typically occurs in late spring to early summer and, depending on the cultivar, in the fall as well. Seasonal (new) plantings could be delayed several weeks longer. More than one flower scape may be produced annually from each bulb, but not in tandem. The blooming period of container houseplants can prove to be variable.
The Aztec lily is a tender bulb plant and is rated for USDA zones 8-10. Those within these zones will be growing Aztec lilies in the ground year round provided a few inches of mulch is offered to the plant during the winter months as an extra layer of protection.
When planting outside, be sure to plant in a full sun location in well-draining alkaline soil, after the threat of frost, of course. When positioning the bulb in the soil, leave a bit of the bulb neck above the soil line and follow the recommended spacing for Aztec lily bulbs, which is 8-12 inches (20-30 cm.) apart and 4 inches (10 cm.) deep.
The rest of us should consider growing Aztec lilies as a container planting in a well-draining potting mix simply because Aztec lily bulbs do not like to be dug up and could respond by not blooming for several years afterwards, which would not be a desirable outcome. However, if those of you outside the recommended USDA zone decide to buck this Aztec lily care advice, you can dig up your bulbs in the fall and store them in a dry, frost-free location during the winter tenure and try your luck the following year.
Aztec lilies in containers can be full-time houseplants receiving four hours of sun per day or be placed outdoors with a winter curfew and protection from excessive rainfall. Cease watering the container plant upon signs of dormancy (leaf dieback) and resume watering and fertilize lightly at the first signs of renewed growth.