Planting a foxtail lily (Eremurus spp.) in your garden is like setting off slow-motion fireworks—except the explosion lasts not just for one night, but for weeks. In early spring, a rosette of narrow leaves appears; the flower stalks rise (to 9 feet in the case of the imposing E. robustus); and finally the racemes bloom—hundreds of tiny flowers along a spike from 1 to 4 feet long.
Another name for the foxtail lily is “desert candle,” and it’s easy to see why: the blooms are most commonly bright, light colors such as yellow, pink, orange and white, and sway easily atop their stalks like a flickering flame.
Though this grassland perennial is a tuberous root rather than a true bulb, it should be planted in the fall along with spring-blooming bulbs. Protect it in Zone 5 with a heavy winter mulch of compost or straw.
Common name: Foxtail lily, desert candle
Botanical name: Eremurus spp.
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Zones: 5 to 8
Height: 3 to 10 feet, depending on species
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Sandy loam, rich with organic matter, well drained
- Moisture: Medium
- Mulch: Mulch to retain moisture
- Pruning: Can be divided every few years
- Fertilizer: None needed
- By seed and by division
Pests and diseases
- Root rot can develop in poorly drained soil
- Vulnerable to slugs
- The larger species of foxtail lily belong in the back of the border. If you can situate this narrow, upright plant so that it’s in front of a dark background such as evergreens, against which the light-colored flower spikes seem to glow, that’s ideal.
- The racemes of E. robustus are 3 to 4 feet long. They make fantastic cut flowers—but you’ll need a fairly large vase.
- Protect from strong winds. You may need to stake the taller flower stalks.
All in the family
- Foxtail lilies are in Xanthorrhoeaceae, a plant family that also includes daylilies (Hemerocallis) and red-hot pokers (Kniphofia).
- The Eremurus genus is native to central and western Asia, where it grows in grassland and semi-arid regions.
- Eremurus robustus is one of the largest species—its stalks grow to 10 feet tall. E. himalaicus is less outrageous—it grows to about 4 feet. The petite E. stenophyllus reaches just 2 to 3 feet and has bright yellow flowers.