I said “rain lilies” in the title because I didn’t want to daunt you with the scientific name, Zephyranthes. But if gardeners wrote alphabet books, Z would be for Zephyranthes!
Z is for Zephyranthes
Zephyranthes are some of the most delicate, graceful flowers there are. They come in red, pink, rose, coral, white, pale yellow, vivid lemon yellow, deep orange, or in sunset blends of colors. Most zephyranthes bloom repeatedly through the summer and into early fall.
Zephyranthes are native to the New World, and grow best in areas of warm summers, generally USDA zones 8 and warmer. Depending on species, some survive winters to 0F, meaning in USDA zones 7.
Pretty Names for a Pretty Plant
With over 70 species and found across extensive territory, Zephyranthes have a variety of common names – some of them quite appealing, such as fairy lily, fire lily, and wind lily. In the Caribbean, they are called “flowers of the West wind.” Natives of Florida told the explorers the plant was “atamasco,” so atamasco lily is another common name. In the Southwest we call them rain lilies because they appear with the summer rains.
How to Grow Rain Lilies
Rain lilies are usually sold starting in late spring in one gallon pots with ample soil around them. They come out of the pot in a big clump of 30 or so bulbs. You can simply plant the entire clump intact, or separate the bulbs and spread them out around the garden.
You can also find zephyrantes in bulb catalogs. Some companies offering bulbs are listed on my webpage Bulb Companies – under Zones, Plants & More on the Menu bar.
Most rain lilies do best with a little shade during our intense Southwest summers. If you plant them around the base of trees or shrubs, everyone wins. You get a ground cover that shades the ground so your tree loses less water to evaporation, and zephyranthes get some shade. The cover of zephyranthes hides fallen leaves, which turn into nutrient rich compost for continued plant health, and you have less raking. It’s a win, win, and win situation.
It’s a Bulb
Like narcissus and daffodils, zephyranthes spend part of their life resting under ground. They flower for months, meanwhile making energy in their leaves and growing big fat bulbs in the deep dark soil. At some point in the autumn their genes tell them winter is coming and they take the remainder of energy out of their leaves and retreat to resting underground, waiting for it to get warm again.
Colorful Rain Lilies to Select
The most common rain lily in the Southwest is the biggest Zephyranthes of all, Zephyranthes grandiflora. Flowers open to around 5 inches across on a 1 foot stem. Generally a warm glowing pink, occasionally a rosy red, these flowers extend above the narrow, arching 12 inch long, ribbon-like leaves.
There are numerous cultivars, since Zephyranthes will cross readily to produce a blue-ribbon blend of colors. “Prairie Sunset” has large coral flowers with traces of pink and yellow. “Apricot Queen” is low growing and features apricot flowers with a yellow blush. And for the Texans reading this, remember the “Alamo” with deep rose-pink flowers flushed with yellow.
The taxonomy of Zephyranthes is slightly mixed up, as it always seems to happen when plants become popular with gardeners. But here are some names you can take to the nursery.
Zephyranthes grandiflora has large pink flowers that jut above the leaves (occasionally sold as Z. rosea or Z. robustus).
Zephyranthes citrina has bright yellow flowers on very short stalks (occasionally sold as Z. sulphurea).
For white, select Zephyranthes candida, with stiffly upright round leaves and generally non-fragrant flowers.
Atamasco lily, Zephyranthes atamasco, has straplike leaves and fragrant white flowers, and do better in at least 1/2 day of shade here, due to summer heat.
Hard to find, but worth it, is Zephyranthes bifolia, with cardinal-red flowers
Zephyranthes macrosiphon also has bright red flowers.
Showy Zephyranthes tubiflora, from Peru, is called the fire lily, with flowers the deep orange of a campfire.
You Can Grow That
No mater what they are called, Zephyranthes are a lovely addition to any yard. Just pick your favorite color (or colors) and tuck some in around your trees and shrubs for future fantastic flowers.
As always, enjoy!
More about overall care of your land and landscape in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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