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Rain Lily Log

This log documents the flowering period of Zephyranthes at Peckerwood Garden in 1998 by Carl Schoenfeld.

Emphasis on Rain Lilies

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, after every rain shower, these bulbs bloom scores of delicate crocus-like flowers on 8" to 10" stems. As a rule, they are quite easy to cultivate, fast to naturalize, will grow in any well-drained soil, and are drought tolerant. With as little as 6 species you can have flowering for 8 months of the year.

Rain lilies are very well suited for containers on a patio. Plant 2 sets in a 2-gallon container. After they flower, they will set copious amounts of seed which will ripen in about 4 weeks. Just shake these back in the pot and keep moist. In about 2 years you will have 60 or more mature bulbs blooming all at once after each rain shower.

January

The holiday season! Recovering! Checking the mailbox daily, making sure I have every seed and plant catalogue available. I am placing my orders now!

February

Looking through old Xerox copies, I came across a Lorraine Barney Spencer monograph on Zephyranthes [Wake Forest University, May 1973.] This interesting paper proposes in its introduction the idea that we consider rain lilies to be the New World equivalent of daffodils. What a thought! Here is the quote:

"The genus Zephyranthes is indigenous and limited to the Western Hemisphere, being entire American species of Amaryllidaceae. Several dozen bulbous species occur only in warm temperate to tropical areas, from near sea level to high plateau and mountain regions. The genus may be considered the American antonym of the closely related Old World Narcissus with all of its species occurring near the Mediterranean Sea." This suggestion prompted me to think about and analyze the differences that these two genera present to our gardening psyche. The idea that Narcissus represents the European experience and Zephyranthes the American reveals the physiological differences that these bulbs pose to our gardening heritage. The formal gardens of Europe with the daffodil in symbiotic harmony with the season versus the new world’s erratic, sometimes cruel, environment with its Narcissus - counterpart spontaneously and flamboyantly splashing color, three days after a strong thunderstorm.

These differences are mirrored in the environment and traditions in which they evolved so it is natural that they shape gardening attitudes. When we are gardening, these experiences define our gardening outlooks and they are more spontaneous and flamboyant than the European tradition. Let’s embrace those plants that echo our environment’s rhythm.

March

The daffodils are starting to fade. It's time for the rain lilies to make their move. Unlike daffodils, rain lilies will continue to spring up providing us with unexpected flowering for the next 8 months. The buds are formed and are just waiting for the signal that triggers their flowering binge, so these New World bulbs are well equipped to handle our erratic weather patterns. These opportunists quickly flower anytime there is fluctuation in temperature, usually caused by rain during the period that the bulb is large enough to flower.

This group of bulbs can provide flowering throughout the entire growing season from March to October since each species has evolved a different duration of blooming cycle at different times of the year. It is this staggered time frame at which the bulb is cycled to flower that makes rain lilies so unique.

The first to start off is Morris Clint’s rain lily Zephyranthes morrisclintii. It blooms religiously in the second week of this month and its flowers vary from pale to dark pink with a small green throat. The scapes are tall, up to 20", making the flowers quite visible in the dry woodland garden where we grow them with Mexican skullcap, Moore’s palm, sago palms, sotol, rattlesnake plantains, and red yuccas. In the wilds of northern Mexico we find them poking out of rock crevices on ledges and overhangs in seasonally dry pine-oak forests where they are at home with hechtia, agave, dahlia, tradescantia and Monterrey oaks. They require well-drained garden soil and have been reliable as long as this need is met. From 1 to 3 flowers are typically produced at one time from each bulb, which in turn produces copious amounts of seed that take 3 years to flower.

Soon after Zephyranthes morrisclintii starts its flowering, the giant prairie lily Zephyranthes drummondii (#T34-38) joins in. This native to central Texas and northern Mexico usually flowers a few days after morrisclintii but it opens in the evenings and remains open for a few days. The fragrant blooms are pure white with puckered wavy petals that have good substance. This rain lily is the easiest to recognize out of flower because of its large blue-green foliage. We have planted them with Mexican primrose, Lindheimer’s beargrass, and Yucca rostrata. Giant prairie lily is noteworthy because of its long window of flowering (from March to September), although it seems to flower heaviest in early spring. In Mexico, you find this plant in the dry foothills of the Sierra Occidental from 1,000’ to 3,000’ in altitude, growing in rich black soil between rocks in full sun. The bulbs can become quite large - 2" to 3" in diameter. It is also found at much lower altitude in the Texas Hill country (600’ to 1,100’) and occupying similar habitats.

Both the giant prairie lily and Morris-Clintii’s rain lily are planted in the dry garden under the shade of tall pines. The giant prairie lily can be grown in full sun, but the flowers last longer and look fresher with protection. Both can be grown in either acid or alkaline soil as long as it is well drained.

  • March 21 Zephyranthes morrisclintii (#T20-04) blooms - medium pink flower, 2-1/2 " across, 20" stalk, foliage 20" long by 1/2 " wide arching upwards then out.
  • March 24 Zephyranthes pedunculata - San Carlos Form (#T34-28) blooms - white flowers, 3" across, 17" stalk, foliage 32" long by 1/2" wide.

April

The onset of heavy showers triggers the El Cielo rain lily Zephyranthes sp. El Cielo # T39-19 into flowering. The large clear pink flowers with a prominent green eye are open-faced and pinwheel-shaped. In Mexico this species is found in cloud forests, growing in the shade of Mexican beech on steep slopes in periodically flooded dry streambeds, at an altitude of approximately 4000’. This area receives abundant moisture in the rainy season and fog during the short dry season. Recorded lows for this site during a 10-year study in the 1970’s was a low of 21 degrees and a high of 90 degrees. It should come as no surprise that this rain lily loves rich soil, moisture and shade. It has been in the garden for 8 years and has proven to be the most persistent bloomer of any rain lily, and will still be flowering in mid September.

The La Siberica rain lily Zephyranthes sp. La Siberica is a distinct rain lily that comes into flower at the end of the month. We found it on the edge of a barren cornfield. At that time only in bud to us, it would be 2 years before we would discover that this one does not open up completely if the weather is cool or cloudy. The name came from the little pueblo, La Siberica, which is perched at 8000’. It is next to the second tallest mountain in northern Mexico. No wonder this rain lily, from such a cold exposed area, remains closed revealing only its pink skirt to those that venture there. The flowers are medium pink on the exterior with an ivory white border around each petal giving this Narcissus equivalent of the New World more the look of a species Tulip! The foliage is strictly upright, blue-green and spiraling. It has a short window in which it flowers, but it does so when few others do - unique and wonderful in the dry garden.

  • April 21 Zephyranthes sp. El Cielo (#T39-19) blooms - medium pink flowers 3-1/4" across with a green eye, 10" stalks, foliage 16" long by 1/4" wide.
  • April 21 Zephyranthes sp. La Siberica blooms - pink flowers, 2-1/4" across, 10" stalks, foliage is attractive blue-green color and is held strictly upright with each blade spiraling skyward. The base is tinted purple.

May

In the dry desert areas of northern Mexico there are many distinct rain lily species. The first of these to flower is Howard’s rain lily Habranthus howardii with powdery yellow blossoms inside and out. It resembles the giant prairie lily in form but remains vase-shaped in profile. We have found this bulb to be quite adaptable, and it has flowered for us every year. Surprising, because we find desert species are usually more difficult to flower due to their need for a long dry dormant period. It is planted on the highest part of the dry garden bed in the afternoon shade of tall pines. In northeastern Mexico this one is found growing on the foothills of the Sierras at 2000’ to 3000’ altitude in dry rocky sites that only receive late summer cloudbursts. Habranthus howardii has to be one of our favorites because of its distinctive color and form.

Further south into the humid tropical Gulf of Mexico basin is a cheerful yellow rain lily, Zephyranthes primulina. It has clear golden yellow blooms with a faint apricot cast on the exterior petals. Surprisingly these flowers last for 2 days without fading in the intense sun. So far, we have not seen this species in the wild, therefore, do not know its habitat. This bulb has a long bloom window, still flowering in mid September. In general, we have found that most rain lilies prefer moist situations that only occasionally dry out. Even some of the very dry desert species have prospered receiving much more moisture in the garden than they do in the wild.

  • May 1 Habranthus howardii blooms - primrose yellow flowers, 2" across, 8" stalk, foliage gray-green up to 17" long by 3/4" wide.
  • May 1 Zephyranthes primulina blooms – yellow flowers, 1-1/2" across, 5-1/2" stalk, foliage 9" long by 1/4" wide.

June

Heavy early summer showers this month encouraged a dramatic show on many species. We had 15 different rain lilies in flower at the same time. The quickest to respond to rain is Habranthus robustus (#Y02-24) with its large pale pink flowers that are graced with a whitish center that gradually turns green. The large amaryllis-like flowers are held at right angles to the stem which is characteristic of Habranthus. This one is often incorrectly identified in the trade as Zephyranthes grandiflora. Remember that Habranthus robustus resembles a miniature pink amaryllis while most Zephyranthes face upward and are symmetrical. It is an amazing lily for it grows equally well in shady moist woodlands or sunny exposed dry beds - each clump producing several heavy flushes a season with sporadic flowers between.

It is followed by another amaryllis look-a-like: the cooper rain lily Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis (#Y02-25) which is native to our area of Texas. The small flowers are produced in such abundance that at times the roadsides look as if they were blanked in gold. The blossoms are an unusually rich shade of gold with dark brown stripes inside and out. It is best planted out in open lawn or wild areas for it will naturalize with little or no care - very drought tolerant.

Our third Habranthus to flower is Habranthus brachyandrus (#Y05-50). It has the largest flowers of any of the rain lilies offered here, quite similar to Habranthus robustus (#Y02-24) but with larger, richer watercolor-pink flowers that become more intense at the edges. The center of the flower is a rich maroon-pink. Occasionally you may see this one in old homesteads where it has formed washtub sized impenetrable clumps, flowering heavily until mid-August.

A rain lily with classic form, possessing large deep pink flowers that face upwards, is Zephyranthes macrosiphon - Hidalgo Form (#T64-39). This is what most people picture when you mention rain lilies. It is quite similar to Zephyranthes grandiflora but flowers earlier and the blossoms are a little smaller on elongated stalks. Where as Zephyranthes grandiflora does not seed for us, Zephyranthes macrosiphon - Hidalgo Form (#T64-39) produces copious amounts of seed. (Sorry, but by June we have run out of common names.) In Mexico this rain lily is found on steep slopes in the subtropical to temperate zone in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. This area receives about 70" of rain. We were told that it was tender so hesitated in planting it out. But, once it was out, it went crazy. Remaining evergreen at 17 degrees last winter, it reminds us, thank goodness, plants can’t read nor do what they are told to do.

A vigorous bulb that we received from Thad Howard as Valles Yellow in 1986, now identified as Zephyranthes reginae (#Y02-32) is ablaze with bright yellow flowers. This prolific bloomer floods the edges of our bed with a patchwork of yellow hues. These flowers lighten to a warm parchment color on the second day. Valles yellow is extremely adaptable; we first placed it in the dry garden before knowing anything about it. But soon after spotting it in a lush tropical valley, we then decided to plant it in the irrigated garden were it thrives in full afternoon sun, sometimes standing water. Valles yellow can be easily tricked into flower by watering heavily during a dry spell. In 3 days you are greeted with yellow sunshine. This profuse flowering bulb will naturalize even in our open fields.

A military march of flowers in perfect form is produced on Habranthus x (#Y05-51), a cross (we think) between Habranthus robusta and Habranthus martinezii. The flowers are a soft medium pink about 2" across with a small green eye and all open at the same time and face the same direction. It is propagated by division since it rarely sets seed. Another hybrid that is especially free flowering is Zephyranthes x - Sunset Seed Strain (#Y05-52). The cream colored flowers are striped in flesh pink with a chartreuse eye. This one is a good repeat bloomer and comes true from seed. We have been told that this is a seed strain that has been mistakenly called ‘Capricorn’. It’s a prolific bloomer that has been easy to grow in the garden.

  • June 9 Habranthus robustus (#Y02-24) blooms - pale pink trumpets turning white with a green eye, 2-3/4" across, 10" stalks, blue green foliage 10" long by 3/8" wide.
  • June 10 Habranthus tubispathus (#Y02-25) blooms - copper trumpets with brown penciling, 1" across, stalks 7" tall, foliage 9" long by 1/4" wide.
  • June 21 Habranthus brachyandrus (#Y05-50) blooms - large pink trumpets with maroon eye, stalks 1’ tall, foliage 14" long by 1/4" wide.
  • June 9 Zephyranthes macrosiphon Hidalgo Form (#T64-39) blooms - rich pink flowers, 2-3/4" across, 11" stalk, prostrate foliage 12" long by 1/4" wide.
  • June 10 Zephyranthes reginae (#Y02-32) blooms – yellow flowers, 2-1/4" across, 12" tall stalk, foliage 14" by 3/16" wide.
  • June 25 Habranthus x (#Y05-51) - H." robusta x H." martinezii cross, blooms - clear pink trumpets with faint greenish eye, 2" across, 9-1/2" tall stalks, foliage 14" long by 3/8" wide.
  • June 27 Zephyranthes x - Sunset Seed Strain (#Y05-52) blooms - cream colored flowers with flesh pink veining and chartreuse eye, rose pink in bud, 2-1/2" across, 12-1/2" stalks, foliage 12" long by 1/4" wide.

July

Now is the time when we are ready for the most beautiful of the rain lilies to grace us with their magical blooms. Labuffarosa is poised to let loose, but is only teasing us with a sprinkling of blossoms set off by the sprinkler. When this one flowers, no other Zephyranthes can compare with floriferousness of its display. This unique plant will change the way people view this genus in the future. We are in the process of making selections on Labuffarosea. The lack of rain this month kept the rain lilies dormant.

August

Thunderstorms the last days of July swept into August. In the first 3 days we had 25 different rain lilies flowering. The first to respond to the rain was Zephyranthes sp. Labuffarosa (#T42-26). What a showstopper! The ground was completely covered with flowers and, from a distrance, looked like fallen snow tinted pink. Labuffarosa is most likely a natural occurring hybrid between the giant prairie lily and an unidentified species with dark rose pink flowers. Labuffarosa can occur in many color variations ranging from pure white to deep rose pink, most being two toned. The size and arrangement of the petals vary tremendously, from 2" to almost 4-1/2" across. All are easily distinguishable from any other rain lily by dense tufts of shiny foliage.

In striking contrast to the white and pink shades of Labuffarosa is Zephyranthes citrina (#Y02-34) with rich golden yellow flowers. It's a native of the tropical deciduous forests of the Yucatan Penninsula. Surprisingly hardy throughout the southern US. The flowers are goblet-shaped and do not fade as the flower ages.

In flower 3 days after Labuffarosa, along with Zephyranthes citrina, is Traub’s rain lily Zephyranthes traubii San Carlos Form (#T20-21). This distinct rain lily has thick tufts of thread-like foliage dwarfed by the 6" long flora tube that supports a pure white star. It opens in the evening and lasts for 2 days. Found in Mexico on dry shallow soils in exposed areas, we have found it amenable to woodland conditions. This one is another of the fragrant night bloomers.

  • August 1 Zephyranthes sp. Labuffarosa (#T42-26) blooms - white to pink flowers, 2-3/4" across, 8" tall scape, foliage 10" long by 1/4" wide.
  • August 14 Zephyranthes citrina (#Y02-34) blooms - golden yellow flowers, 2" across, 10-1/4" tall scape, foliage 8" long by 1/8" wide.
  • August 14 Zephyranthes traubii - San Carlos Form (#T20-21) blooms – white flowers, 2" across, 14" tall scape, foliage 16" long by 1/16" wide.

September

We stopped here with the rain lily diary in 1998.