Light up your yard with the foxtail lily

This stately perennial has showy flower spikes in bright colors.

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
Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae

Growing conditions

  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Sandy loam, rich with organic matter, well drained
  • Moisture: Medium

Care

  • Mulch: Mulch to retain moisture
  • Pruning: Can be divided every few years
  • Fertilizer: None needed

Propagation

  • By seed and by division

Pests and diseases

  • Root rot can develop in poorly drained soil
  • Vulnerable to slugs

Garden notes

  • 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.

Where to buy
Brecks, brecks.com
Diane’s Flower Seeds, dianeseeds.com (seeds only)
Michigan Bulb Co., michiganbulb.com