Gardeners in Zones 8 and warmer are probably already familiar with this flowering bulb; it is commonly recommended for Southern landscapes. However, our northern friends can enjoy it too. Simply plant bulbs in a container, and bring the pot into the garage over the winter. Bulbs should be planted about 4 inches apart and just below the soil surface, with the bulb "neck" sticking out slightly.

Before sharing its spectacular ruby blooms, Sprekelia (Pronunciation:. sprek-KEEL-ee-uh) sends up several thin, strap-shaped, foot-long leaves in the spring, much like a rain lily. A couple of individual flower stems will then appear on each plant, with the spectacular 5" red flower opening soon after.

While the foliage is nice and tidy, the flower is, of course, the main attraction. It is unusual in its shape and is sometimes described as "orchid-like". The petals of the flower are in two groups - the upper three stand up, curving back at the tips, while the lower three are pendent, rolling up like a tube at the base, encircling the stamens.

If given idea conditions - dry winter soil with modest alkalinity, excellent drainage and full sun - Sprekelia may reward you with flowers in spring and again in the fall. However, this plant can be temperamental and may not bloom at all some years.

ImageMine languished in the shadow of some aggressive cannas and didn't do anything last year. Needless to say, the cannas got ripped out and are now gone. However, I'm hoping all that digging action didn't rattle my Sprekelia too much. Disturbing the roots tends to make them a little cranky. If you're planting Sprekelia in a pot, select a large-sized container right off the bat to prevent the need for repotting in the future. Sprekelia will multiply, so give it plenty of room.

The most common species, Sprekelia formosissima, is a native of Mexico. Beyond that, there are only a few known additional hybrids, thanks to noted bulb enthusiast and plant hunter Thad Howard. (Thad even has a Sprekelia named after him, the smaller, thin-petaled Sprekelia howardii.)

Hybridizers have experimented in combining Sprekelia with Hippeastrum (amaryllis) to get a hardier, more reliable bloomer. The result: Hippeastrelia, a huge, full, crimson flower.

For my part, I prefer the more open-faced look of the original Sprekelia. And I'm anxious to see if, after a year off, mine will reappear to grace me with its ruby beauty.

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)