September 26th, 2003
Rhodophiala bifida Seeds

photo: Rhodophiala Seeds
The stem on the left shows a seed pod. The stem on the right the more usual withered sterile flowers.

photo: Rhodophiala Seeds

Dateline 2003

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.

Dateline 2002

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?

Tags: , , , , .

by M Sinclair Stevens

8 Responses to post “Rhodophiala bifida Seeds”

  1. From Joe:


    I have heard that Rhodophiala bifida is a sterile triploid plant. So anytime they set seeds it would be an event. I am curious to know how the seelings have developed. Please drop me a line.



  2. From Patty Allen:

    I would like to add to the comments about the oxblood lilies. I’ve been growing them for several years, probably in the thousands. Up until last year, some would set a seed pod, but it would not fully develop. Just finally shrivel up and die.

    This past fall [2003] I had a large quantity of bulbs set seed and just about every seed pod develope. and filled out with black papery little seeds, similar to amaryllis seed, only smaller, not quite as papery thin and seems like the kernel was a little thicker.

    I immediately harvested the pods as they turned brown and planted in one of my 43 beds built especially for all the bulbs I grow. They germinated in about 2-3 weeks and at this writing [04-03-04] they survived the winter down here close to Houston and are about 5-6″ tall.

    About the shape that was mentioned, I have found that the bulbs with the “hour glass” shape are prone to make more offsets than the other more rounded bulbs. I have counted upwards of 5-15 around one of the bulbs with the “hour glass” shape. I also grow the Spathacea and I’m planning to do some hybridizing between my regular bifidas and this gorgeous pink variety. Also intend to breed both kinds to some of my rainlilies, both habranthus and zephyranthes to see what new colors will emerge. I’m on the look-out for an orange, yellow, white and lavender oxblood. So far I’ve seen pictures on the internet but nowhere is there any info as to where they can be obtained. Hope the info about the bulb shape helps.

  3. From Patty Allen:

    This is Patty again! My seedlings from my red R.B. are emerging this August after being planted last October from fat seed pods on oxbloods that aren’t supposed to set seeds, just produce offsets!

    I now have about 400 of the pink oxbloods and they started blooming about 2 weeks ago. In these oxbloods are 2 shades of pink. A light pink and a darker pink,same outfacing blossoms as the red ones. They make babies and as each one of these bulbs has bloomed, they are also setting fat seed pods.I’m certainly hoping that they will fully develop and pop out some healthy little seeds that germinate well.

    I have some H.R. Floryi [Cherry Pink] rain lilies that are really beautiful that I would like to cross with them to see what would come of that . I’m crazy about rainlilies and oxblood lilies as you can tell. If anyone knows of a source for other colors or seeds for same, perhaps you would share that info.

  4. From Jed A.:

    I am an amateur botanist/plant collector (working on my Master’s at Texas State) and I often drive to Houston on I-10. One day in late Sept. 2006, I passed a hillside of I-10 that had about 5 patches of deep red flowers and I stopped to collect them because I have never seen them before. I didn’t key them out right away, but I found an article in the Austin newspaper and recognized them as these Rhodophiala bifida. This was in Fayette Co., and I was wondering have they been naturalized in the Austin area? Are they then reproducing and spreading by seed? I have not found any other documentation on them being an escaped cultivar that is naturally reproducing.

    The clumps you found were probably planted around an old farmhouse at one time. I would not characterize the oxblood lilies in Fayette County or in the Austin area as “naturalized” so much as “survived”. They prefer to reproduce by bulb division relying on people, and the occasional squirrel. — mss

  5. From Cindy Hays:

    These are my favorite plants. I am trying to aquire some that might set seeds. None that I have currently have do. If anyone is willing to part with a few I would gladly purchase.I would love to try hybridizing this bulb.

  6. From Joshua B.:

    I live just outside the Austin area and would say that my Rudophiala bifida are totally naturalized. They reproduce from seed and fully offset without any helping hand. My father planted them around my house 15 years ago and now number in the tens of thousands. If anyone is interested you can email me at jball at txstate dot edu.

  7. From JohnJ Camarillo, CA:

    Patty, can you give us a follow-up on your pinks? Were you able to breed them with the rain lilies?
    How did you get them to bloom in one year?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

  8. From Jeanne E:

    My husband just acquired a few of these bulbs from a dilapidated family homestead near Buckholtz, TX. Do these do well in the Pacific Northwest/Seattle area? We are in Zone 9 with lots of rain and little sun from September to March. These would truly be heirloom plants for us, so any hints or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    I’ve never lived in or gardened in Seattle so I have no idea how they would do. Just try them and see. If the ground doesn’t freeze over the winter (you say you’re in Zone 9 but I thought it snowed in Seattle), then they should be okay. Otherwise you can grow them in pots. They don’t mind mucky soil (that is, they won’t rot like some bulbs which require good drainage.) Try them and tell us your experience. — mss