Dear Hortense answers a question about bulbils

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

What is wrong with my lily plant?  It has these brownish-black "things" growing in the leaf axils. Is it a disease? Is it large insect frass? What should I do? What spray should I get?

Lily Nervousgardener

Dear Ms. Nervousgardener,

If you reach for a spray, which I assume is your word for "pesticide", I shall never answer your gardening questions ever again. Really, why do you think that a spray of some kind is the answer to every single gardening question? Where and why would you get such a notion in your head?

A spray is most assuredly not the answer to any of your questions, especially this one.

These brownish-black "things", as you call them, are a blessing. A gift.  A wondrous miracle of plant propagation. They are bulbils, another way that some lilies propagate themselves.

You can harvest these bulbils and plant them and they'll grow into new lily plants which should grow to blooming size in about three years. 

Don't even start to complain that three years is too long to wait for a lily to bloom.  It is not as though you have to do anything extra in the garden during those seasons while you are waiting.  Just weed, water, fertilize like you would anyway.

Really, it will take you all of a few minutes to harvest and plant these bulbils. It's a small amount of time to offer up to increase the number of blooms in your garden in future years.  And if you don't want more lily blooms, you can grow these anyway and give the extra plants to others.

There is no downside here. Get going, get planting!



  1. Oh, thanks! I did not know this. Now I am ready.

  2. Way to tell it, Hortense!!!! I have read that those bulbils only show on the tiger lilies, Lilium tigrinum, but have seen them one time on very drought stressed LA hybrid Lilium 'Royal Fantasy'. Those three years go by really quickly, you will have blooming lily babies before you know it.

  3. Thanks for saying spray isn't the answer to everything Hortense. I so appreciate that. I hope your reader plants the bulbils.~~Dee

  4. Free plants! What more could a gardener want? Wait! Drumroll! Yes, pesticide free gardening! gail PS I've seen these bulbils on Hardy Begonias, too.

  5. A question for Hortense and bloggers

    I have a good size clump of surprise lillys (lillies?). They made a very nice display last year---about 15 or so. This year (year of the drought here) only one showed up at surprise lily time. I'm pretty sure that the leaves came up this spring so I suppose they are still down there.

    Did anyone else not get surprised this year?

  6. I have asiatic and oriental lilies and have never noticed bulbils. Am I just being unobservant, or does this only apply to different species?

  7. Hortense is a wealth of sage advice and though lilies have I none, I appreciate her edifying me on the subject of bulbils.

  8. All of my Surprise lillies(lycoris) bloomed despite the drought.


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