September 9th, 2010
Oxblood Lily Day

Rhodophiala bifida

One day each year the oxblood lilies peak. Today is that day. A drenching from Tropical Storm Hermine last Tuesday brought forth the main display. I don’t know why I’m even inside writing this up. I could spend the whole day lying on my stomach in the grass reveling in the beauty.

Rhodophiala bifida

I say this every year, but…for Austinites, oxblood lilies are like daffodils for northern gardeners. They presage the beginning of the southerners’ gardening year. They trumpet the triumph of the garden over our worst and most dreaded season, summer. They are of similar size and form to daffodils. (I suppose technically they’re more lily-shaped, thus the name. No they are not related to lilies). They naturalize in lovely drifts. The only thing oxblood lilies lack is a scent.

Rhodophiala bifida

As you can see, I planned my garden house to overlook the oxblood lilies in the stump garden.

Rhodophiala bifida

by M Sinclair Stevens

38 Responses to post “Oxblood Lily Day”

  1. From Pam/Digging:

    What can I say? The oxblood lilies are utterly beautiful massed in clumps throughout your green garden. They look lovely against your unfinished garden house too. Great pics! I only hope mine look that wonderful in a few years. How many years since you planted your first bulb?

    I wish I could capture the color. In full sun, they look more orange than in real life. In shade, more purple. Ah, the oxblood lily inventory is something that I carefully obsessively track each year. In 1995, I dug up a clump of 64 that were near a felled red oak in my front yard. About 28 of those were flowering size. Some were very tiny and took three or four years to flower after I transplanted them. Over the years, I have divided them furiously and planted very tiny ones in a nursery. I have grown some from seed. And I’ve also rescued some from bulldozers. As of the end of last year I had 1349 bulbs…sort of. If I could find the time and space to divide all the bulbs that need dividing, I’d probably have close to 2000. I give a few away, too. 😉 I like to think of myself as the Johnny Appleseed of oxblood lilies. –mss

  2. From Angelina:

    They are beautiful! I can’t understand why I never actually do that-go and lie on my belly to stare at the beauty there. Like a kid. Or just like an ageless person enjoying the most simple offering in nature.

    Simple and yet not simple.

  3. From Annie in Austin:

    Mine are little bouquets this year, MSS, rather than those glorious sweeps of color in your garden, but oh, how they make my heart glad to see them! Thank you, thank you!

    I love the purple heart/Setcreasia leaning in to the lower left of your second photo.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. From M2 in Bothell:

    I like how you share the possession with “Austinites” in general, and I admit seeing them all over town, but to me, they’ll always be your special flower.

  5. From Lori, south Austin:

    Wow! Those oxblood lilies are showstoppers! I have to say that your oxblood lily meadow is the loveliest way I’ve seen them used in a landscape.

    Thanks. The problem with a big display like this is the other 332 days of the year it’s rather dull. Do you garden in south Austin? We might be neighbors. — mss

  6. From elizabeth, austin, tx:

    I was talking to Pam/Digging about my desire to cultivate oxblood lillies in my gardens spaces.
    She mentioned that you have lovely, old groupings; that you may have a few left from your last give away and suggested I contact you.
    She forwarded your page to me. They are beautiful!
    if you do have extra that would be such a treat. if no, perhpaps you could recommend a place I might find some.
    Thank you.

    I’d be happy to share some oxblood lilies with you. I’ve emailed you some more info. — mss

  7. From Jared, Cedar Park, TX:

    I stumbled upon your website the other day. It is great! Excellent info! My fiancee and I just bought a house and are looking to spruce up our newly expanded flower garden and fell in love with the oxblood lily. I’ve had a hard time finding them locally or online. Do you know of any place that might have them (or is it too late this year)?
    Thanks for any info!

    Thanks. Flattery will get you anything–or at least it will get you some free oxblood lilies. I’d be happy to share some with you. If I dig them up when the leaves die down next summer, you can have some before their next blooming season. Most of the local nurseries have them. I’ve seen them at The Natural Gardener, The Great Outdoors, Barton Springs Nursery, and Gardens. The potted plants at The Natural Gardener won’t bloom again until next year. I don’t know what would happen with bulbs planted this late. — mss

  8. From Naomi Leander, TX:

    Another compliment on your oxbloods! I think there might be a patch near my office in Georgetown; there are no flowers, but lots of stalks. I may (will, who am I kidding) go dig some up and transplant into my garden. Do you think they would be okay if I dug them up now and didn’t wait until summer?

    Yes. Keep them in water until you replant them. Get them in the ground as quickly as you can. And don’t worry–even with mistreatment, oxblood lilies are very hardy. Did you actually see them bloom? If the leaves are a deep green with a milky white stripe then those might be red spider lilies instead. If they are oxblood lilies, I hope you are able to rescue them. — mss

  9. From Naomi Leander, TX:

    I saw them bloom from a distance – not close enough to look at the leaves. Although the flower shape was definitely more the oxblood flower than the spider lily, either one would make me happy. Thanks again for your help and your garden is beautiful!

  10. From Randy Fayetteville, AR:

    I moved from Austin (East 14th Street on Swede Hill) to Fayetteville in March 2007. I dug up as many Oxblood bulbs from my Austin yard as I could (about 50). I’ve had them in pots and will plant them in my new yard soon. I couldn’t leave without them.

  11. From Carolyn in McKinney, TX:

    When I was answering phones for Neil Sperry’s Texas Gardening radio show this morning, a caller inquired about some red lilies she had been given permission to rescue from a construction site. Neil guessed that she had found oxblood lilies. Her call sent me on a search for photos this evening, and I found yours. They are positively beautiful! What a lovely garden you have!

    Tell me, please, how much sun the lilies require. (It appears that they tolerate some shade.) Thanks so much! — cs

    Yes, oxblood lilies can tolerate quite a bit of shade. They are particular about their siting. They can take sun or shade or a mix. Most of mine are planted under old cedar elms or pecans–trees with a high canopy; I guess you’d call it filtered sunlight. The only time they’ve been unhappy is planted when I let English ivy grow over them and suck up all their water. — mss

  12. From Irene Chesnutt:

    Hi, there! After seeing your photos weeks ago I got a pricey order of oxblood lily from the southern bulb co. Now, I look at your pictures and measure each mm. of growth.
    I realize I have a long way to go to 2000,
    so I can just appreciate your photos periodically.
    Thanks, IHC in Beaumont

  13. From Karen Young:

    yes, would love to plant some oxblood lilies..hope I can find some to buy…thanks for your photos
    there was an old homeplace by my parents that had spider lilies everywhere when I was young.. they were magical to me… I haven’t seen any since hurricane Ivan.. I need to find some and start the magic again!!

  14. From Phil MacNames Round Rock, TX:

    I love oxblood lilies and have hundreds in my garden. I know of several abandoned sites in the central Texas area which are home to thousands of bulbs. I frequently dig the bulbs and ship them all over. My prices are very reasonable in comparison to the major websites offering them. If you’d like a bunch please E-Mail me and I’ll get an order to you. My minimum order size is 100 large to jumbo bulbs for $75 plus shipping.

  15. From Samantha, Austin, TX:

    I bought some oxblood lilies (or one, rather) in the fall and I left it in a pot until the leaves died. Can i keep them in containers until I have a yard to put them in or do they do better with deeper soil?

    THank you!

  16. From Traci, SW Austin:

    Wowee, what a great stand you have! Gorgeous! Your oxblood pix make me miss my old yard so much! tho’ not the old plumbing, wiring, or foundation of that house 😉 New house is great, new yard, not so much. I had inherited a beautiful stand of these oxbloods on 49th street, but they were blooming when we sold and couldn’t be moved without killing them. And there were only a couple of small bunches left, but how I loved the surprise of their blooms in the fall. Now after a few years in a new tract home with a pretty bare landscape, I finally have the periennial “bones” of my garden established, and I’d love to have some bulbs to give this place some charm and character. Do you have any this season, or has this awful drought taken them? I will buy some, I don’t have anything to trade. Thanks for sharing your pictures, and I hope your fall show is as lovely as ever this year.

  17. From Peggy Manor, TX:

    My grandmother had oxblood lillies that grew along her fences in Fedor, TX. Her birthday was in September and her favorite color was red, so the lillies were usually in bloom when we went to visit.

    Sadly, she passed away, but the plot where their house stood so many years still had lilies, but not in bloom. My husband and brother dug up several bulbs but with these last 2 summers of drought, they have not produced any flowers..yet.

    During her funeral the pastor even mentioned Frieda’s lilies that bloom after every rain.

    Thanks for the memory!

    Around Labor Day, you’ll probably start seeing the bulbs nose up. When that happens, give them a good soaking. They’ll bloom eventually. Oxblood lilies never give up. — mss

  18. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin, TX:

    If it’s still cloudy, I bet it looks like a movie screen.

  19. From karen abilene texas:

    can i dig up the oxblood lilies i found in my yard and how can i transplant them

    You can dig them up almost any time but I think it’s easiest right after they bloom but before they have too many leaves. Just separate the bulbs and replant them immediately. They are not picky about the depth. Keep them well-watered for a couple of weeks. Or you can wait until the early summer when all the leaves have died down. It’s sometime hard to find them then or to dig them up without slicing into the bulbs with your shovel. The advantage is that they are dormant (no growing roots) and so they don’t have to be replanted immediately. — mss

  20. From manyannie Many, LA:

    I found my first ox blood lilies this weekend near Milam. TX. What a thrill.

  21. From Phil MacNames Round Rock, TX:

    Just realized I failed to list my E-Mail address on my above comment. You can reach me at If you want large, healthy oxblood bulbs at reasonable prices I’m the guy you’re looking for.

  22. From jenn:

    Mmm. Another thing I am not sure I can grow. My amaryllis are doing fine in pots in the back yard, but they haven’t bloomed since I moved to the desert.

  23. From Jenny Austin:

    They really are gorgeous. One of my clumps responded to the first rain and were flattened by the second one. However, a smaller clump was lagging behind and are now blooming. They haven’t multiplied which suggests they are not really as happy here as they were in your garden. Perhaps I should move them to a better location.

  24. From Iris/Society Garlic, Austin:

    Although I have far fewer than you, I’m always thrilled when my Oxbloods show up. I’m still experimenting with my cameras to capture the Oxbloods’ true bloody color rather than the too-orange tone my cameras see.

  25. From Susan, Austin:

    For three years, I’ve kept a dozen bulbs in some pots as I was forced to hold them while my new house was built. They have bloomed each year. I’m hopeful that the bulbs I stored in peat moss in a box for that same three years will survive also. They make me so happy when I drive up and see them. A reminder that fall is almost here. That’s why they’re also schoolhouse lilies – they bloom just as school is starting.

  26. From Pam/Digging:

    Damn, I probably missed the big show this year while I was in Wisconsin. I haven’t even been outside to look today, my first day back, because I’ve been doing laundry, grocery shopping, running kids around, etc. all day. I will go look tomorrow to see what remains.

  27. From Patty, Rockport:

    Wow! I’d never noticed these gorgeous little darlings before. They were hiding on a shady corner across from where I was filling up my car. I took a picture and facebooked them to find out what they were. Must get some!

  28. From schrodinger, dallas:

    I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 18 years and never, ever saw oxblood lilies growing in our alley– and I walk the alley almost every day.

    This week, I saw several clumps of these lovely red flowers growing here and there at random, all up and down the alley. I happen to have a perfect spot for them, a new bed in dappled sun where I’m planting Turks’-cap and where Lycoris has been appearing en masse ever since I planted it on a wag about 15 years ago.

    Oddly, the Lycoris is also a randomly-appearing prize that showed up in the front yard one fall day a couple of years after we moved here. It now encircles the trees, accents the ground beneath the crapemyrtle (which is also in full bloom now), and appears in stands throughout the front and back yards. What a joy it would be to include some Oxbloods in that early-fall display!

  29. From Danielle Austin:

    hey, i was looking at your pictures of your oxblood lillies and i notice some ground cover you have next to them..i have some and i have been trying to figure out what it is forever!! what is this, it grows in strands and if you have it in a hanging basket it just keeps getting longer and longer, but grown in ground they just spread..?

  30. From Danielle Austin:

    sorry, to be more specific, its not the purple “wandering jew”…the green leaves that have about an inch between new leaves. thanks.

    The bright green stuff is related to wandering Jew. It’s a weed called Callisia repens. It grows all over my yard in rainy years although not so much in dry years. I like it a lot as a ground cover but I don’t know where you’d buy it. Mine just showed up. — mss

  31. From cindy:

    i finally found out what the one red flower was that bloomed under a tree in our front yard for the past several years. the mayor of our small texas town had a whole bed of them and so i stopped in and asked her one day. we have one oxblood lily. and we are amazed by it every year. it was like a mystery with it’s first bloom, now it’s a waiting game to see if it will reappear each year.

  32. From Kati:

    Those splashes of red are wonderful. Our red this time of year comes in the maples’ dying leaves.

  33. From Larry:

    Another new plant for me… I presume they aren’t hardy? Can they be used in the same manner as amaryllis?

    Oxblood lilies are perfectly hardy for me in Zone 8. So are amaryllises, for that matter. — mss

  34. From fer:

    sorry for the late reply. Your flowers look great! it must be so beautiful to see them peak like in a red sea.

    Thank you very much for joining the carnival! It was great having people from all around the world.

  35. From Debbie in Alvarado:

    Your oxblood lilies are beautiful!! I’ve tried to find someplace that carried them and was excited when I found them at Southern Bulb only to see that they too, had sold out..maybe I’m searching at the wrong time… I would be thrilled if you would sell some to me at any time convenient for you.. Thank you for sharing your beautiful garden.

  36. From Marshall 78704:

    Beautiful oxbloods! A lady in Del Valle is selling them now (late Dec/early Jan) and I’m going to go pick up a slew of them… Do you know if planting them now (middle of winter) is a good or bad idea? Can I expect blooms in the fall?

    Thanks for the useful info!

  37. From Mark scott:

    I would love to trade some lycoris for some oxbloob lilys. I have 200. Please get with me.

  38. From Mark scott:

    I would love to get some oxblood lily.