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Products > Sprekelia formosissima
Sprekelia formosissima - Aztec Lily
Image of Sprekelia formosissima
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Bulb/Tuber/Rhizome etc.
Family: Amaryllidaceae (Onions)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Flower Color: Crimson Red
Bloomtime: Spring/Summer
Synonyms: [Amaryllis formosissima]
Height: 1 foot
Width: <1 foot
Exposure: Light Shade/Part Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 20-25 F
Sprekelia formosissima (Aztec Lily) - A large bulbous perennial from Mexico that produces dark-green narrow strap-like leaves that arise during the bloom period. The interesting and large crimson-red flowers, which only last a few days, are nearly 6 inches wide and rise up individually on a stalk 1 foot or less above the ground during the spring and early summer, and sometimes again in fall. These flowers, unlike most plants in the Amaryllis family, are irregular (zygomorphic) having long narrow petals with the two side petals curling back, while the other four (one on top and three on bottom) are straight and from the middle of the flower emerge long anthers bearing large yellow stamens - quite the show!

Plant in full sun to light shade in a well-drained location or on a mound in neutral or slightly alkaline soil. Overly wet soils in winter can cause bulbs to rot. Although not considered that hardy, this plant thrives in areas far colder than where the bulb is native to, tolerating short duration winter temperatures below 20 F and has even been reported to survive winter cold while dormant down to 0F. It can also be grown in colder climates if lifted such as would be done with a daffodil. Plants are nearly evergreen in mild climates and will often bloom several times during the year if a dry off rest period is given after the last flowering. Aztec Lily seems to flower repeatedly but unpredictably in Southern California gardens and is thought that the lack of a rest period, the period when water is withheld during the plants dormancy, is the major cause of this - unfortunately this beneficial rest period coincides with natural rainfall in our mediterranean climate, so good drainage is the most important factor. Others note that good deep watering promotes flowering. Also keep an eye out for mealybugs as this plant is prone to this pest and these are often hard to spot down between the emerging leaves. Plant it in the garden or keep it in a pot and when the flamboyant red flowers appear everyone will be amazed with how interesting and beautiful they are.

Sprekelia formosissima comes from Mexico, growing in outcrops of the mountains from Chihuahua down the central slopes of the Sierra Madre mountains to Oaxaca and Chiapas. This plant has long been in cultivation and was thought to have first been brought back to Europe from the new world as early as 1593 by Spanish conquistadors. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus first described it using his binomial system in 1753 as Amaryllis formosissima in Species Plantarum but it was renamed Sprekelia formosissima in 1821 by the British botanist William Herbert to honor the lawyer and botanist J.H. von Sprekelson, who first sent the plant to the Linnaeus. The specific epithet 'formosissima' means "the most beautiful". Besides Aztec Lily, it is also called Orchid Amaryllis because of its zygomorphic orchid like flowers and, because of the deep blood red petals roughly arranged in the shape of a cross that is thought to resemble the emblem on the mantles of the Spanish Knights of St James (Order of Santiago), it has been called St James Lily, or Flor de Santiago. Another common name cited is Jacobean Lily, which is confusing as "Jacobean" is a term given to things relating to the reign of King James I of England (AKA James VI of Scotland). This confusion stems from the early common name Crimson Jacobea Lily, which relates to the plant being introduced into cultivation from Mexico in pre-Linnaean times with the Latin name "Lilio Narcissus Jacobeus" as it was listed in 1732 by the German botanist Jakob Dillenius in his Dillenian Herbarum of Hortus Elthamensis. All very confusing naming stories for such a beautiful plant!

We grew this bulb from 1997 until 2011 and reluctantly discontinued producing it only because it did not bloom with any regularity in the container, which made it difficult to sell, but we held onto some stock plants and released a last crop of it in 2024. 

This information about Sprekelia formosissima displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.