Background The Lycoris genus includes many ornamentally and medicinally important species. Polyploidization and hybridization are considered modes of speciation in this genus, implying great genetic diversity. However, the lack of effective molecular markers has limited the genetic analysis of this genus. Results In this study, mining of EST-SSR markers was performed using transcriptome sequences of L. aurea, and 839 primer pairs for non-redundant EST-SSRs were successfully designed. A subset of 60 pairs was randomly selected for validation, of which 44 pairs could amplify products of the expected size. Cross-species transferability of the 60 primer pairs among Lycoris species were assessed in L. radiata Hreb, L. sprengeri Comes ex Baker, L. chinensis Traub and L. anhuiensis, of which between 38 to 77% of the primers were able to amplify products in these Lycoris species. Furthermore, 20 and 10 amplification products were selected for sequencing verification in L. aurea and L. radiata respectively. All products were validated as expected SSRs. In addition, 15 SSRs, including 10 sequence-verified and 5 unverified SSRs were selected and used to evaluate the genetic diversity of seven L. radiata lines. Among these, there were three sterile lines, three fertile lines and one line represented by the offspring of one fertile line. Unweighted pair group method with arithmetic mean analysis (UPGMA) demonstrated that the outgroup, L. aurea was separated from L. radiata lines and that the seven L. radiata lines were clustered into two groups, consistent with their fertility. Interestingly, even a dendrogram with 34 individuals representing the seven L. radiata lines was almost consistent with fertility. Conclusions This study supplies a pool of potential 839 non-redundant SSR markers for genetic analysis of Lycoris genus, that present high amplification rate, transferability and efficiency, which will facilitate genetic analysis and breeding program in Lycoris.