Leggy Beauties of Late Summer

In the hands of Picasso or Rubens, an ode to naked ladies might take shape differently. But in Sonoma it looks like this: Late every August, flashes of pink flitter across the otherwise browning landscape, bursting forth from cracks along the edges of old barns or running in parades along a sagging fence.

Behold the naked lady flower, bobbing in the breeze, her slender, mud-brown stems shooting upward toward a pink canopy of petals, taking root in the unlikeliest of places and at the unlikeliest of times.

Some call her Amaryllis belladonna or belladonna lily. But it’s her nickname that sticks, possibly coined from her long, leafless, “naked” stems.

Bitterly poisonous, she’s a tease for the eyes. In full bloom, her petals roll back dramatically, displaying showy yellow stamens dancing in the center.

A testament to nature’s ephemeral beauty, she calls out to us in the dry heat of Indian summer like a siren. For students, she’s more of an omen, a sign it’s time to be back in harness for the school season.

Before you know it, she’s gone in a flash, to lie dormant again until next year, her pink parade an indelible memory.

Famed Santa Rosa horticulturist Luther Burbank was intrigued by naked lady’s beauty but thought she needed a little something extra. So he crossed Amaryllis belladonna with Crinum lily and came up with Amarcrinum, a not-so-naked lady with leaves on her stems.

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