Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

September, 2009

Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata), Oxblood Lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) and Rain Lilies (Zephranthes spp)

Dr. William C. Welch

Professor & Landscape Horticulturist,
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

 

 
Z. candida, one of the best performers

One indication of an eventual end to our long, hot summers is the emergence of several bulbous perennials. Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata), oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) and certain rainlilies (Zephranthes species suddenly appear and add color and interest to our tired, heat-weary gardens. These plants are not natives, but they appear to be, since they often come back year after year and slowly increase in numbers and flower production.

All three plants have in common that they produce most of their foliage during the winter and spring, go dormant during the heat of summer, then flower in early fall. They actually require a dormant period during the heat of summer when little or no water is needed. Artificial watering during this period may be harmful to these plants. Spider lilies and oxblood lilies are especially sensitive to over watering during their "baking period;" therefore, it is best to plant these tough and hardy bulbs where they are out of reach of normal sprinkler systems or artificial watering.

Spider lilies are a novelty in the world of ornamental plants. Each spring the strap-shaped foliage appears, ripens, then dies down with the heat of summer. In September, usually after a soaking rain, clusters of red, pink, white or yellow flowers suddenly spring forth from the ground. Stems may reach 18 to 24 inches, and they are topped with spidery-like flowers with wavy-edged segments and long stamens. They are very easily grown, especially in the eastern third of the state. The red form (Lycoris radiata) is much more common than the others and is the easiest to grow.

Oxblood lilies are another introduction from Argentina. They were introduced by a German-Texas plantsman named Heinrich Oberwetter, an early colonist in central Texas. Oxblood lilies appear to be equally well adapted to heavy clay or deep, sandy soils. The flowers resemble small red amaryllises and are borne several to a stem. Foliage is strap-like and emerges after flowering to flourish through the winter, and then it yellows and disappears by summer.

Among the large and diverse group of plants known as rainlilies, the most common cultivated form is Zephranthes candida, the white rainlily, which is sometimes called "Autumn Crocus" because of its tendency to bloom profusely in the fall. It somewhat resembles monkey grass and is useful as an edging plant in the garden during the fall, winter, and spring when its foliage is most abundant and attractive. White rainlilies are native to the shores of Rio de la Plata, the River of Silver, in Argentina. Flowers appear mostly in late summer and fall, usually beginning with the first autumn showers.

Rainlilies, oxblood lilies and spider lilies are all propagated by dividing mature clumps of bulbs. This can be done successfully at any season, but transplanting just after the foliage starts dying down in late spring or early summer is less likely to interrupt their bloom cycle. Commercial availability is limited on all three of these plants although it appears to be improving.


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