September 26th, 2003
Rhodophiala bifida Seeds
The stem on the left shows a seed pod. The stem on the right the more usual withered sterile flowers.
Curious and curiouser. Last year one clump of my oxblood lilies set seed. I have managed to keep alive four little seedlings. Because I’ve obtained my bulbs from various sources over the years, I wondered if a different kind of Rhodophiala got mixed in with the normally sterile oxblood lilies. However, this year many clumps set seed. From a single bulb, usually only one stem would set, sometimes only one flower.
The Pacific Bulb Society has one of the best resources on Rhodophiala. They say that the Rhodophiala bifida of Central Texas is known for its abiity to reproduce rapidly by offsetting and it does not set seed. Other Rhodophiala bifida strains set seed, but don’t offset.
Well, whatever is in my garden does both. The bulbs that formed seeds are also forming offsets. But I do seem to have two different types. One has an elongated rather gourd-shaped bulb. I thought the bulbs were misshapen because they were growing in poor conditions originally. But after a year in the seedling bed, they are the same shape and produced many offsets also the same shape. They also have thick fleshy roots and look somewhat like this photo of Rhodophiala granatiflora. However, on my plants the flowers and leaves look just like the other oxblood lilies and the stems are an inch or two shorter…but that might just be because of their age or location.
Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) are very easy to propagate by offsets. They multiply quickly, especially when fed and watered. They are one of those marvelous plants which can thrive on complete neglect but do even better when fed, watered, and planted in good garden soil.
About a dozen of my oxblood lilies set seed this year. Every year, after the stalks flower, little seed heads form. But most simply wither away. This year, one group brought seeds to maturity. They look exactly like rainlily seeds and so I sowed them the same way. I soaked them overnight after gathering them and then sprouted them between sheets of paper towel. To my complete amazement, most of the seeds sprouted. I have now planted them in little flats.
Scott Ogden reports that in their native Peru pink and orange Rhodophiala are grown that can only be reproduced from seed. These strains are reputedly less hardy than the oxblood lilies naturalized in Austin. Mine which set seed look just the same as the others, but produced more flowers per bulb. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this is an improved form?
by M Sinclair Stevens in Austin, Texas