September 10th, 2008
Fall Reds: Oxblood Lilies

oxblood lilies

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower. — Albert Camus” I saw this quote the other day on Brocante Home Chronicles and thought…not in Austin. Central Texas isn’t blessed with the brilliant fall foliage of the American northeast or Japan. It is, in fact, our flowers that suddenly burst into bloom, released from the oppressive heat and searing sun of summer.

At Zanthan Gardens it is oxblood lilies that reign supreme announcing fall is here. They begin to nose up in late August, regardless of the amount of rain or the temperatures. They require only water to bring them into bloom. Three jumped the gun and bloomed while I was in the UK as the result of the rain Austin got in mid-August (when I was gone). I decided to force other groups into bloom one at a time by watering them by hand.

oxblood lilies

Oxblood lilies are at their most impressive when hurricane rains bring the whole lot into bloom at once. (Another of their common names is hurricane lily.) Hurricane Ike is headed our way and should arrive this weekend. I always feel guilty wishing on a hurricane that is bringing death and misery to so many. Maybe in all that destruction a drop of beauty is bitter compensation. But I can’t help but hope for rain.

oxblood lilies

I often tempted into the mistake of taking too many close-ups of oxblood lilies. Their real impact is in how they provide a mass of color. For central Texans, they are like northerner’s daffodils of spring. I find it fascinating how they tend to point in the same direction like little soldiers in red coats standing at attention.

by M Sinclair Stevens

30 Responses to post “Fall Reds: Oxblood Lilies”

  1. From PGL:

    Gorgeous red blooms, truly a fall inspiration.

  2. From Brenda:

    Wow, these are stunning! I don’t have a “mass” of anything. I should work on that though. My garden is like a hodge podge:)

    My garden in mostly a hodge podge, too. I just lucked out on the oxblood lilies and spent about ten years avidly propagating them. I started with about 35 and now have close to 1600. — mss

  3. From our friend Ben in Pennsylvania:

    Wow, MSS, I’d never heard of oxblood lilies before, and they’re phenomenal. Thanks for introducing them into my life!!!

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    Your close-up photos of the oxblood lilies are wonderful, MSS – and posting them is not a mistake…it’s a celebration!

    Ike already exists and the lake levels are lower than average, so don’t feel guilty about hoping we get some of the water. Floods, drought and the occasional hurricane seem to be normal for Central Texas, don’t they!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. From Cindy, Katy:

    I hope they’ll have some Oxblood Lilies available at Bulb Mart next month because seeing your beauties has convinced me I MUST have some! I’m hoping for rain from Ike but nothing else … I’m still waiting to hear if I need to haul yard art & pots into the garage.

    Don’t go buying oxblood lilies…just stop by the next time you’re in Austin and I’ll give you some. That’s one of the perks of being a frequent commenter at Zanthan Gardens. — mss

  6. From Frances:

    Hi MSS, I love your comparison of the oxbloods to daffodils for us, it is so true. I think we are just out of the range of hardiness for these, but might try some anyway. The thought of red daffodils in September is hard to resist. Those red blooms should cheer you up!

    They do! They do! They signal fall is on the way and a new season of gardening about to begin just like the daffodils and crocuses do for you. — mss

  7. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Beautiful, my new favorite red flower, now that I know about them. I love the picture of them all together, all turned the same direction. Other than sunflowers, what other flowers do that? I’ll have to more closely observe masses of flowers now to see if that happens more commonly than we think it does.

  8. From Northern Shade:

    The oxblood lilies look lovely under the tree. The mass effect of bright red atop the slender green stems is very striking. Sometimes there is great beauty in simplicity.

  9. From Margaret:

    The heck with this place I live(d) in, I just put it on the market and I am moving to Austin. I always liked the Mexican food there, anyhow, and now THESE!

  10. From Jenny Austin:

    I saw your comment that you have 1600 lilies! Gorgeous. Do you have to take them up or do they stay in the ground? I wonder if I have a spot in my garden? I’m afraid it would be out there under the cedars where the deer roam.

  11. From Gail:

    They are quite speectacular and after the summer(s) you all have endured a nice reward of a second spring.

  12. From ESP Austin:

    wow! what a visual statement…stunning.
    And right on with the daffodil comment, I grew up in the uk, they do look like that. Red ones of course.

  13. From M2 in Bothell:

    There is something really spectacular about them. So much bright green, so much vibrant red, and BAM … they aren’t the shy bloomers. Love ’em.

  14. From bill / prairie point:

    the ones you gave me are blooming this morning. yeah!

    So glad to hear it! I like knowing how my “children” are doing in the world. And you included a photo. Sweet. — mss

  15. From Barbarapc/Oakville, On:

    We are between bright colours here – the garden is muted as everything is finishing up. Thanks for the blast of colour – wonder if this is the sort of bulb I could do in a pot over summer like amaryllis? will have to cq.

  16. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    It seems funny to me that those flowers can be forced into blooming just by watering them. How many times have I stood in front of a group of plants begging them to bloom in time for some event. They are a lot like Daffodils, which also turn their faces stubbornly towards the sun, sometimes screwing up perfectly good garden pictures. The Oxblood Lilies make a wonderful impact. I can’t imagine have over a thousand of anything. How wonderful.

  17. From Frances:

    Hi MSS, I just ordered three oxblood lily bulbs, zones 6-9! I am 7 so feel safe. I wanted you to be the first to know. Any suggestions about where to plant them? Sun, shade, etc?

    Come visit me at my new wordpress location, I didn’t transfer the blogroll, too many to do one at a time so am starting over with it and want you there!

  18. From Jan:

    Wow! What a fantastic display. I love that color red. I started seeing pictures of oxblood lilies last year and have been thinking of trying to get some for my garden. How tall are they? It is hard to tell from photos.

    Always Growing

    Oxblood lilies are about a foot tall–very similiar in size and shape to daffodils, if you can imagine a daffodil that is all cup and no sepals. — mss

  19. From Sarah Laurence:

    MSS, those oxblood lilies are gorgeous! Terrific photos, and I agree the impact is greater at a distance but all the images work well to show the complete picture. It’s good the hear the hurricane rains are doing some good. I feel for for Texas – first too little rain and then too much. I also enjoyed your castle garden tour below. What a fun trip for you! I do miss English gardens although we’re much better on fall colors. So nice to check in with you again.

  20. From linda:

    They are gorgeous, and a nice reward for the hellish summer you Austinites have endured.

  21. From Lori:

    I can’t wait until the oxbloods in my yard multiply enough to look like yours. So far two have bloomed, and I think I’m going to have to start watering and see whether the rest of them can be convinced to bloom together. Fingers crossed.

    If we’d only gotten some rain from Ike…they aren’t called hurricane lilies for nuthin. — mss

  22. From r sorrell:

    After I read this post yesterday, I got home from work and noticed that one of my clusters of oxblood lillies (which you gave me) is in bloom. I have several other areas that I planted them in, so I’m hoping to see more soon. Maybe I just need to water more!

    The only oxblood lilies blooming now in anyone’s garden are those that have received supplemental water. Generally they will wait until the rains come and so can you. But if you see the little flower buds above the surface, you can go ahead and give them a good soak and they will bloom two or three days later. I water mine a lot while they are flowering just so the flower last. I don’t do anything with them the rest of the year. — mss

  23. From Angelina:

    I know what you mean about feeling guilty wishing for “bad” weather. Personally, I am always wishing for storms and snow and I decided long ago that it’s possible to enjoy the storms while still hoping that no people get harmed. Nature will do what she will do and we will get caught in it no matter what, so we may as well enjoy the beauty the storms bring which is the flip side of the destruction.

    It’s kind of like how fires feed the earth. People get in the way of what nature needs to do.

  24. From Bonnie:

    Truly amazing to see them en masse. I’ll look forward to mine multiplying.

  25. From Diana - Austin:

    Omigosh. Those oxblood lilies are just stunning. And the way you planted them just multiplies the effect they have in the garden. Are they in the front or the back or both? Do people just stop and stare at them? Amazing.

    last year. I haven’t even forced this group into bloom yet. Without the rain, I’m doing them section by section so that I can enjoy them longer. — mss

  26. From Mary in Austin:

    Hi — I’m a returning Austinite… and ready to plant my first plant. I have bookmarked your site for all the great stuff here!!! I think it is going to be these oxblood lilies. I saw that I can order them through Southern Bulb Co. My question is — do you have any idea if they are deer resistant? I am in NW Austin.. and they will make a buffet line out of almost anything!! I can’t wait to get my hands dirty!!! Also, I was thinking about “interplanting” these with Texas Star daffodils. I’m not a gardener (yet).. is this do-able? I was aiming for both spring and fall blooms. Thanks for your advice.

    I’ve never tried interplanting them with daffodils. One problem I anticipate is that they grow and thus would have to be planted and divided at different times of the year. I think they have the most impact when planted in a clump. You could alternate the clumps, though. — mss

  27. From Layanee:

    I will never tire of seeing this lily which I cannot grow so keep taking pictures!

  28. From MA:

    Love those red oxblood lilies! are they hardy in zone 6? Would you share a few? I would love to try them. They are gorgeous.

    Does your ground freeze? If so, you should try growing them in a pot. They grow all winter, die back over summer, and then bloom in fall. — mss

  29. From Dee/reddirtramblings:

    I loved your comment about feeling guilty hoping that a hurricane would come and dump some rain on Austin. I also feel the same way here especially if we’ve had a terrible drought. I sit and watch the weather and feel just guilty, but also hopeful. Your Oxblood lilies are some kind of beautiful en masse.~~Dee

  30. From Theresa/GardenFreshLiving:

    The lilies are stunning.

    Would one hold up as a cut flower? How long do they usually bloom? The same as other lilies?

    Love ’em!

    Oxblood lilies are not true lilies. They are ‘Rhodophiala bifida’ and more related to the amaryllis than the lily. Their beauty is extremely fleeting. Any given stand of oxblood lilies is at it’s height for two or three days, maybe longer when the weather is wetter or cooler. However, in Austin, they usually bloom in August and September when highs are usually in the mid-90s. I have never tried them as cut flowers although I have forced bulbs (which I haven’t gotten around to planting) indoors. Two or three days…and then you have to wait until next fall. — mss