Showers bring out beauty of rain lilies
By JANE WEBER
Published June 26, 2006
Rain! Long overdue summer showers have coaxed 3- to 4-inch-long trumpet-shaped, upright flowers to spring from clusters of small bulbs under roadside turf. Commonly named zephyr or rain lily, Zephyranthes atamasco is one of several lilies native to Florida.
This wildflower has a pure, bright white corolla that fades to pink after a few days. The flower funnel consists of six joined lobes surrounding six bright yellow stamens atop an 8- to 15-inch stem or scape. It dances in the slightest zephyr of a breeze and seems to appear suddenly in any month after a rainstorm. Spring showers of May and June usually produce the most prolific show of flowers.
The leaves, under 1/8-inch-wide and 12 to 18 inches long, are inconspicuous among the roadside grasses, herbs and other wildflowers. As with most lilies, zephyr lilies have three-parted seed capsules containing many shiny, black, flat seeds that sow themselves near forming colonies.
With a natural range from north-central Florida to Virginia in Zones 7 to 9, our zephyr lily will prosper in full sun or shade, acid or alkaline soils, damp mesic woods, rich forests, sunny roadsides, shady limestone outcrops and in cultivated lawns and gardens.
The perennial bulb gets bigger each year and produces little bulb offsets at maturity. Each bulb sprouts one flower a year. Large colonies bloom en masse in spring. Individual bulbs can bloom any month of the year.
As most lawns and roadsides are mowed too regularly, seed heads usually are cut off before seeds ripen and leaves are severed before they can nourish and fatten the bulb and attached bulblets. This does not encourage colonies to develop, and ever increasing development may result in our native species becoming endangered.
Rain lily does not mind irrigation and will tolerate annual summer flooding. However, its roadside habitat is evidence that natural rain cycles are adequate for this xeric, or drought tolerant, wildflower. Care is needed to buy natives used to Florida weather and soil conditions rather than the widely available exotic species offered in Northern catalogues.
No lilies should ever be dug from the wild. Other native Florida lilies include the giant string lily, Crinum americanum with leaves sprouting from a trunklike sheath; the respectable spider lily, Hymenocallis latifolia, alligator lily, Hymenocallis palmeri and the rare treat's lily, Zephyranthes treariae. All can be found along the Nature Coast.
In the garden, a good place to let rain lilies mature is among evergreen companion plants such as blue-eyed grass, stokes aster, purple coneflower, liriopi and ophiopogon that may border the edges of a perennial flower bed or walkway. All gardeners can enjoy the refreshing rains and the cool lilies in Citrus County.
Editor's note: This weekly article is provided by Jane Weber, professional gardener, grower, consultant, designer and environmentalist. Visit her Certified Florida Yard and Backyard Wildlife Habitat, 5019 W Stargazer Lane, Dunnellon. Call (352) 465-0649.
[Last modified June 25, 2006, 22:33:19]
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