Foxtail lily, the giant spring-flowering Eremurus

Eremurus, also called foxtail lilies, are clump-forming perennials native to the arid grasslands of Afghanistan and Iran. In their natural habitat, they thrive in rocky slopes and meadows, making it a sight to behold amidst the rugged landscape. They are relatively cold tolerant if grown in very well-drained soil and are winter hardy, some say up to zone 4.

No surprise then that I wanted to try it to see if this hardiness proved real in my zone USDA 5.

Characteristics of foxtail lily

Eremurus are known for their fuzzy, bottle brush flowers that bloom from late spring through early summer. Their flowering stalk, emerging from a rosette of leaves, towers over other plants, making it a striking focal point in any garden or landscape to the spring garden. The numerous individual florets, arranged in a unique cylindrical shape, are reminiscent of a fox’s tail, thus giving it the common name, foxtail lily. The flowers open from the bottom up.

Eremurus is a genus of the Asphodelaceae family and not the lily family (Liliaceae) despite their common name. The South African genus Haworthia, a well-loved succulent plant grown indoor, also belongs to this family.

Close-up of Eremurus flowers

The most commonly grown species of Eremurus are:

Eremurus robustus: Known for its grandeur, it boasts impressive flower spikes that can reach up to nine feet in height. The individual florets are a delightful combination of white, peach, salmon, and yellow tones.

Eremurus himalaicus: With its graceful appearance, this variety displays soft pink florets that create a mesmerizing effect when mass-planted. It tends to grow slightly shorter, around four to five feet tall.

Eremurus stenophyllus: This compact variety showcases vibrant yellow flowers, making it a standout in any garden bed. It typically reaches a height of around three to four feet, making it suitable for smaller spaces.

My first foxtail lily experience in the garden

I planted 3 rhizomes at the end of my peony garden in late Fall. These rhizomes have a bud in the centre of which are roots in the shape of “tentacles”. Their appearance is often compared to that of a starfish. I found them at a local garden center and they were about $6 CAN each.

Before planting I rehydrated the rhizomes an hour in cool water. As recommended, I set each at 6” (10 cm) deep and 14″ (35 cm) apart, with plenty of compost, placing the rhizome gently at the bottom, spreading its tuberous roots. I used a mulch of leaves to protect them from the winter harshness. I made sure to remove it as soon as the ground was free of snow.

Each rhizome grew in early spring a rosette of blue green, spiky leaves. We experienced a late frost in May but the plants seemed fine so far.

Rhizomes of eremurus

Unfortunately, due to that frost or for another unknown reason, only one plant produced a floral stem bearing hundreds of small white flowers with a very light pink hue. My variety was supposed to have pink flowers, but I was just enthusiastic that I had succeeded with the flowering! Although mine was about 5 feet tall, it can reach a height of 8 feet. Its abundant flowering occurred in mid-June and stayed in bloom for 3 weeks.

Given the height and slender structure of foxtail lily, it is recommended to provide support to prevent the flower spikes from bending or toppling over. Staking the plants using bamboo canes or other support structures should help maintain their upright form but I did not need it for my unique stalk.

In the next few weeks it should enter dormancy to disappear until next spring.

I will be purchasing more plants this upcoming fall and installing them in a sunnier location. Currently, the end of the border where they are planted receives 4-5 hours of sunlight, which may not be sufficient as they are supposed to receive the required 6-8 hours. Despite having well-drained soil, we experienced a particularly wet spring in 2023. However, the plants seemed to have avoided rotting, which frequently occurs with waterlogging. Next time, I may consider adding more sand and compare the growth observations.

Foxtail lilies are drought tolerant and deer resistant. The lily beetles and other critters do not bother them but the flowers are loved by honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds – all our pollinator friends!


Although I’m not there yet, multiplication is also possible by division every three to five years. The best time to divide the plants is during their dormant period in late summer or early fall, after they have finished flowering for the season. Proceeding at this time allows the sections to establish before the onset of winter. Before dividing the plants, water them thoroughly a day or two in advance. This will help the plants recover more easily from the division process. Next, carefully dig up the foxtail plant using a garden fork or shovel, taking care not to damage the roots. Dig around the plant, starting at a distance from the center, to avoid injuring the main crown of the plant. Once the plant is lifted from the ground, you can separate the clumps into smaller sections. Gently pull apart the clumps, ensuring that each division has a healthy portion of roots and shoots. You can use a sharp, sterilized knife or gardening shears to help with the separation if needed. If the divided sections have long, straggly roots or excessive foliage, trim them back to encourage better growth and reduce stress on the plant.

It’s important to note that Eremurus plants may take some time to reestablish and resume blooming after being divided. Be patient and provide proper care to encourage healthy growth and flowering in the following seasons.

Growing plants from seeds can require patience and care. Eremurus seeds are best sown in the early spring or late summer/early fall. This will allow the seeds to go through a period of cold stratification, which helps with germination. On average, it can take approximately 2 to 3 years for foxtail lilies to reach maturity and produce their first flowers.

Foxtail lily is undoubtedly a showstopper in any garden. I hope that I convinced you to try its culture yourself!

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