Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria), or lilies of the Incas, are flowering perennial tuberous plants from South America that closely resemble lilies but are not true lilies. Peruvian lilies produce beautiful flowers that can last two to three weeks as cut flowers in a vase.
Each plant grows about 20 inches to just over 3 feet and usually colonizes an area with its spreading roots. These plants prefer regular moisture of one inch of water per week, rich, well-draining soil, and full sun, although they will need shade from the sweltering afternoon sun.
Peruvian lily is listed as mildly toxic (class 2, class 4) to humans. According to the ASPCA, it is non-toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
|Common Name||Peruvian lily; lily of the Incas; princess lily|
|Botanical Name||Alstroemeria spp.|
|Mature Size||1–3 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Flower Color||Pink, orange, red, yellow, white, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||7-10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South America|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to people|
Peruvian Lily Care
Here are the main care requirements for growing a Peruvian lily:
- Plant Peruvian lilies in the spring after all danger of frost is over and once soil temperatures have reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prefers full sun; however, hot climates require some shade, or the plant may not produce flowers.
- Handle tuberous roots gently; they are brittle.
- Spread the tubers over a mound of soil, and cover them with about 2 inches of soil.
- Grows fast, often blooming in their first year, although some bare-root plants may not flower until their second year.
- Keep soil moist; give about one inch of water per week.
Peruvian lilies flower most abundantly in full sun (six to eight hours), but in sweltering climates, they will appreciate some shade during the peak of the afternoon sun.
Peruvian lilies like fertile, well-drained soil. You can accomplish both qualities by improving your soil with an organic amendment, like compost or leaf mold. These plants do well in most ordinary garden soil but prefer a slightly acidic pH (5.5-6.5). Peruvian lilies grow well in raised beds or using the lasagna gardening method.
Peruvian lilies need regular moisture, especially as summer temperatures heat up. Give them at least 1 inch of water per week or when the soil surface feels dry.
Temperature and Humidity
Peruvian lilies like temperatures in the 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit range. Temperatures in the upper 90s can cause the plants to produce blind stems—foliage without flowers. You can prevent these blind stems by planting tubers in partial shade or in an area that receives only morning sun.
In humid areas, it's important to provide adequate spacing to help air circulation that will carry away spores of fungal diseases like botrytis.
One feeding in early spring will prep your Alstroemeria for the growing season. Use a balanced flower fertilizer. A steadier stream of nutrition (every two weeks) will keep your Peruvian lilt flowers more productive in the garden. You can also provide fertility via organic additives like manure and compost tea.
Types of Peruvian Lily
Peruvian lilies are hybrids developed from Alstroemeria aurea as one of its parents. Peruvian lily breeders focus on introducing exciting new colors for the cut flower market. Here are a few favorites among many options:
- 'Fougere' has large white flowers with purple flushes in the throat, streaked with burgundy. It grows 24 to 36 inches tall.
- 'Moulin Rouge' has cheerful orange and yellow tones that glow in the summer border and the bouquet. It tops out at about 28 inches tall.
- 'Mauve Majesty' has bright mauve-pink flowers with creamy yellow throats. It is a relatively tall variety, growing to around 30 inches.
- 'Indian Summer' has coppery orange flowers and grows up to 30 inches tall.
- 'Princess Eliane' has bright pink flowers with yellow and burgundy throats. It is a small variety, 9 to 12 inches tall.
Cut Peruvian lilies back after blooming to prevent the plants from directing energy into seed production. Where plants have spread too much, pull up less productive stems to encourage younger plants from newly formed tubers to flourish.
Propagating Peruvian Lily
Peruvian lily can be propagated by dividing its roots or growing from seed. In their native habitat of Chile and Argentina, wild stands of Peruvian lilies grow and spread into large colonies. You can control their spread by cutting the flowers for display in a vase, also preventing reseeding.
The easiest and most reliable Peruvian lily propagation method is dividing the tuberous roots in the early spring before new growth begins. Here's how:
- Before you begin, you will need pruners, a shovel, and a new planting site.
- Use pruners to cut off dead growth or remove green growth to a height of 6 inches.
- Use a shovel to dig down several inches around the clump you want to divide. You may be unable to divide in large colonies without damaging neighboring plants.
- Lift the entire clump from the ground and carefully brush off excess soil. Take care not to break the brittle roots.
- Carefully cut apart clumps. Each clump should have at least three to five tubers.
- Replant immediately in the garden. Dig a shallow hole, place the tubers over a small mound of dirt in the center of the hole, then cover it with about 2 inches of soil.
Growing Peruvian Lily From Seed
Growing these plants from seed is uncommon since germination rates are low and seeds require stratification. It can also take several years for seed-grown plants to flower. If attempting to sow seeds, plant many seeds since many will fail to germinate.
Here are the steps for seed propagation:
- Collect the seed pods after the flowers fade.
- Dry them until they are brittle and hard, and break apart the seed pods to harvest the seeds.
- Soak seeds in room temperature water for 12 hours.
- Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in sterile potting mix.
- Place the container in a cold location (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for one month. This cold stratification is necessary for the seeds to germinate and sprout.
- After cold treatment, place the containers in a 70-degree location with bright indirect light until seedlings sprout. Germination rates are inconsistent, although it can occur from seven days to three weeks, if at all.
- Once seedlings have developed their true leaves, move the container into a location with full sun to grow them into mature plants.
- Take care when transplanting from pots, as these plants do not like to have their roots disturbed when they are young.
- Plant seedlings in the garden 8 inches apart.
Potting and Repotting
Your Peruvian lily plants can thrive in large containers; for many gardeners, this is the preferred method of growing them. Pair them with trailing plants that enjoy the same growing conditions, such as sweet potato vines, million bells, or love-lies-bleeding. Plants may need staking to remain upright in containers.
Use any commercial potting mix for your Peruvian lilies, and select a pot at least 8 inches wide and 24 inches deep. Any pot material will be fine, but make sure the container has ample holes for good drainage. Even larger pots are recommended in warmer climates where the Peruvian lilies remain outside year-round.
Peruvian lilies cannot be moved indoors to grow as houseplants, but in colder climates, you can bring pots indoors for winter and store them as dormant plants in a cool, dry location. You can dig up, divide, and replant the tubers at the end of winter; use fresh potting soil when replanting. Keep the soil dry to avoid rot.
In warmer regions (zones 8 to 10), Peruvian lilies require no winter protection other than clipping back foliage as it dies back. Since zone 7 is a transitional zone, the plant roots should be covered with dry mulch for the winter.
Gardeners in colder zones than USDA zone 7, dig up and store the tubers for the winter. Here's how:
- Dig up the roots in the fall before the ground freezes.
- Shake off the loose soil.
- Place the tubers in a paper bag filled with peat moss. Hang them in a dry, cool (35 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit) location for the winter.
- Replant in spring after the soil warms to at least 60 degrees.
- Spread the tubers over a mound of soil.
- Cover with 2 inches of soil.
- Keep moist as you wait for growth to emerge.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Peruvian lilies are remarkably free of serious pests and diseases, though they can be affected by some of the usual garden pests, including slugs, mites, aphids, and whiteflies. Use insect soap or slug bait to prevent damage.
Some serious diseases that can affect Peruvian lilies include:
- Botrytis (gray mold) appears as furry, gray-brown spores on the plant's leaves and stems. This fungal disease is hard to cure, but you can prevent its spread by spacing plants well apart to improve air circulation and watering at ground level rather than overhead spraying.
- Various fungi can cause root rot which will result in the leaves and stems to wilt and collapse even though the plants get enough water. Prevent root rot by amending soil so it drains well. Allow the soil to dry out to help this plant to recover. Serious rot will cause root blackening; discard or destroy plants with blackened, decayed roots.
How to Get Peruvian Lily to Bloom
Peruvian lilies will usually bloom well if given adequate water, light, and fertilizer. It is fairly common for Peruvian lilies to stop blooming robustly after five or six years. When this happens, it's best to lift and divide the root clumps and replant them to create new plants.
Other reasons Peruvian lilies fail to bloom include pruning foliage back too soon without allowing the roots to store energy from the sun, overcrowding, or poor-quality soil. If given fertilizer, it should be well-balanced. Fertilizers should not be too nitrogen-heavy, which encourages foliage over flowers.
Peruvian lilies can typically start to bloom in May, blooming all summer into fall, usually fading out in November.
How Long Does Peruvian Lily Bloom?
Blooms last two to three weeks. Peruvian lilies rebloom by deadheading the faded flowers to encourage new growth.
What Do Peruvian Lily Flowers Look and Smell Like?
Funnel-shaped flowers extend from clustered lance-shaped leaf foliage. The beautiful 2- to 4-inch Peruvian lily flowers come in multiple colors—pink, orange, red, yellow, white, and purple—featuring warm brown freckles, but they have no fragrance.
How to Encourage More Blooms
Peruvian Lily plants prefer bright sunlight, a balanced diet (6-6-6 fertilizer every two weeks), and one inch of water per week. Deadheading spent blooms is the best way to encourage more to appear.
Deadheading Peruvian Lily Flowers
Deadhead spent blooms to encourage more flowering and to prevent flower heads from setting seed.
Common Problems With Peruvian Lily
Peruvian lilies are not temperamental plants and are generally easy to grow. However, some can experience a few common issues that are generally easy to rectify.
Plants Won't Stay Upright
These plants have profuse flowers and rather spindly stems, so it's common for them to flop over. This is a common problem for species grown as cut flowers, and it is easily handled by staking up the flower stems.
Stems and Leaves Wither, Even When Plants are Well-Watered
This is a classic sign of root rot caused by various fungi. Most common in warm, wet weather, you can prevent root rot by ensuring the soil is porous and well-drained.
Plants Have Stopped Flowering
It's common for Peruvian lilies to gradually stop flowering as the tubers get old, even though the foliage continues to flourish. Usually, this happens as plants reach five or six years of age. When this happens, it's time to lift and divide the tuberous roots.
What is the difference between Peruvian lily and Asiatic Lily?
With their vibrant colors, freckles, and popularity as cut flowers, the Peruvian and Asiatic lily (Lilium auratum) look alike but are not in the same family.
Blooms of the Asiatic lily are larger (4 to 6 inches), have more prominent stamens, and grow at the top of tall stems bearing narrow foliage. They also come from Asia and are more hardy, able to grow in USDA zone 3.
How long do Peruvian lilies last?
In a favorable garden location, Peruvian lilies will live almost indefinitely, as the tuberous roots will gradually spread and colonize the area. The spread is usually manageable, however; this is not officially regarded as an invasive plant.
How should I use Peruvian lily in the landsape?
This plant is very often grown as a large container plant, or in cutting gardens for flower arrangements. Its foliage is rather sparse, so as a garden plant it is best planted behind other species that disguise the base of the plants.
How do I harvest Peruvian lilies for cut arrangements?
It's not recommended to use pruners to cut flowers from these plants. Instead, grasp the flower stem—leaves included—near ground level and pull laterally to detach the stem from the root crown. Arrange the flower stems, with leaves attached, in a vase with taller stems in the center and shorter stems surrounding them.
Don't worry about frequent harvesting; the more flowers you harvest, the more the plant will produce.
Safe and poisonous garden plants. University of California, Davis.
Peruvian lily. ASPCA.
GROWING ALSTROEMERIA. Department of Plant Science, University of Connecticut.
Pests in Gardens and Landscapes (Family Alstroemeriaceae (Peruvian lily family). University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
- Alstroemeria. North Carolina State University Gardener Extension.