Native to western and central Asia, these imposing lily relatives have spirelike flowering stems that look great in bulb catalogs. Unfortunately, they're difficult to grow well in most of the South. They need long, cold winters, which we seldom haveand they require absolutely perfect drainage. When these conditions are met, however, the results are spectacular. Not browsed by deer.
Flower spikes stand 39 ft. tall. Spaced closely along the upper third to half of the spike are bell-shaped, 14- to 1-in.-wide flowers in white, yellow, pink, or orange. Rosettes of strap-shaped basal leaves appear in early spring, then wither after summer bloom. Magnificent in large borders against a background of dark green foliage, wall, or solid fence. Dramatic in arrangements; cut when lowest flowers on spike have opened.
E. himalaicus. To 67 ft. tall, with white flowers. Leaves to 1 ft. long.
E. x. isabellinus. Likely best known in this group are Shelford hybrids, 45 ft. tall, with blossoms in mixed colors (white, yellow, pink, orange). 'Cleopatra' is a 3- to 6-ft.-tall, orange-and-red selection of the Ruiter hybrids, a Dutch strain featuring bright, clear flower colors.
E. robustus. To 69 ft. tall, with pink flowers lightly veined in brown. Dense basal rosettes of leaves to 2 ft. long.
E. stenophyllus. To 35 ft. tall, with bright yellow flowers aging to orange-brown. Leaves to 1 ft. long.
Handle the thick, brittle roots carefully; they tend to rot when bruised or broken. Plant them in rich, fast-draining soil, setting crown just below surface in Lower South, 46 in. deep in Upper and Middle South. Space roots 24 ft. apart. When leaves die down, mark spot; don't disturb roots. Don't let soil dry out completely during dormancy. Provide winter mulch in Upper South. Stake tall flower spikes.