Friday, September 21, 2012

Oxblood lilies arise

Hear ye, hear ye, the first rain of fall has . . . fallen. After that first rain (in late August or September) the loveliest thing happens in my garden – the oxblood lilies arise from the mud! Of course the rain lilies bloom, also – though sparsely this time, perhaps due to tough summer conditions.

Inspired by these lovelies, I chose to write a lily post. Perhaps I could wax poetic about the graceful, nodding flowers atop long slender stalks, and refer to lily lore – such as how lilies have symbolized “purity, innocence and goodness” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 18, 1988) from the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and continuing to this day in Christianity. Perhaps I would mention famous people named Lily, though I could only come up with Lily Tomlin. I could trot out famous expressions, such as “gilding the lily.”

I googled oxblood lilies, to begin learning about this beautiful flower, and made a crushing discovery.

Oxblood lilies are not lilies. (Rain lilies are, however.)

What cruel trick is this? This derails the whole theme of my post! Who can I complain to? Who is responsible for this travesty in plant taxonomy!

Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), also called schoolhouse lilies, are members of the Amaryllis family.  According to The Southern Bulb Company, German settlers introduced this Argentinean native to central Texas.

My mother-in-law dug these bulbs from the front yard of her grandparents’ house, and years later passed some along to me. Her grandparents, Emil and Laura Brune, ran Pearfield Nursery in Colorado County. Laura’s father, German immigrant J.F. Leyendecker, established Pearfield in 1876.  According to my mother-in-law, Peter Heinrich Oberwetter, a German Texan who studied bulbs, introduced oxblood lilies to Texas about 1900.

“Whether or not J.F. Leyendecker had them, I can't say for sure, but Grandma always had them,” says Mary Anne. “They used to line her front walk, which is why I planted mine out in the front.”
This group of lilies is by my front step.

I love how these lilies surprise me each fall. After they bloom, the foliage grows during the winter, and then dies back with the heat. By the time they bloom in the fall, I have forgotten they even exist. These babies are tough - drought tolerant, soil tolerant, preferring part shade to full sun. Apparently they don’t require dividing, but can be after the foliage dies back. The blooms proliferate over the years.

This is probably an evening star rain lily (Cooperia 
drummondii). You may remember my earlier post
about rain lily identification issues.

They did not bloom at all during last year’s drought. Perhaps a gardener could be forgiven for thinking they had died.  But the fall rain resurrected them, and they are more beautiful this year than ever before.

Here’s to oxblood not-lilies!

Favorite spot in the garden:

See above!


  1. Those Argentina bulbs that came to your garden by way of Colorado County look right at home next to that beautiful cactus in your Hill Country garden. Great photos and great story. Passalong plants alway have special meaning to a gardener. I am so glad you enjoy your oxblood not-lilies! Oxblood Amaryllises just doesn't have the same ring as oxblood lilies!

    1. No it doesn't, and thanks for the information - and the beautiful bulbs!

  2. Great information! I don't have any of these - yet, but I've been promised some, so I look forward to being surprised next year when they bloom! What a nice welcome to your guests.

  3. Good grief Cynthia it's like we live on different planets--what an amazing gorgeous not-lily you have there. I wish something as cool as that would sprout HERE after the first rain. I'll get just weeds and with luck the grass will stop being yellow soon... Fun post!