Rhodophiala bifida bulbs with offsets
2014-08-22. Rhodophiala bifida bulbs. On the left, the offset has formed a new, small bulb. On the right, the offset growth (looking like a large root) is just beginning to grow up toward the surface.

August 22nd, 2014
Rhodophiala bifida Bulbs

Oxblood lilies in Central Texas are generally propagated by bulb division. The way the bulbs form is somewhat different than garlic, daffodils, tulips, or lilies. As far as I can tell, they send out these fleshy growth that look like thick roots and those form the new bulbs on the outside of the mother bulb.

Whether the various types of Rhodophiala produce via bulbs or seeds is suppose to be one way of distinguishing them from each other. The bulbs in my garden do both but I can’t say for certain that the same bulb does both. Oxblood lilies are classic pass-around plant in Central Texas and so my collection is quite a mixed bag.

I do have some clumps that offset like crazy. I have others that offset steadily but more slowly. This time of year they are waiting to come out of their dormancy, preparing for that rain which will force them into bloom. Even in the dry heat and parched ground, you can see the occasional bud waiting to poke up. This one dug up provides an illustration of how the buds grow on the outside of the previous year’s leaf stem.

Rhodophiala bifida bulb: the flower bud is forming on the outside of the stem.

Zephyranthes grandiflora
Zephyranthes grandiflora, a large deep pink rainlily.

September 15th, 2009
GBBD 200909: Sep 2009

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

September 2009

It rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. Between Thursday (9/10) and Sunday (9/12), Zanthan Gardens received over 7 inches of rain. We didn’t get much during the day on Friday (9/11) when it seemed to rain all around Austin but not in the center. But finally it began raining in the early evening and rained on and off all night. Then Saturday between 2:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon it suddenly poured and we got 2.6 inches in just that hour.

The skies remain gray and gloomy, the temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Summer’s grip is broken. Like a woman giving birth, we quickly forget the pain of delivery as we embrace this new life.

So much has died over the summer that my usually floriferous September has very few different kinds of flowers. It’s mostly the bulbs that stay dormant during the heat and only peek out after a rain. I’m starting to think this is the only kind of sensible plant to grow in Austin’s summer.

The rain brought out the rainlilies. I have four kinds, now: two pinks and two whites.

Zephyranthes labuffarosea
Zephyranthes ‘Labuffarosea’, a slightly smaller and paler pink rainlily. A passalong from Annieinaustin @ The Transplantable Rose

This thick-stemmed and thick-petaled white rainlily grows wild in my yard.

This small and more delicate white rainlily is a self-sown newcomer. It opened yesterday and is already beginning to curl its petals and fade today.

Podranea ricasoliana
The Podranea ricasoliana is a rampant vine which smothers everything in its path–but it’s hard to find fault with it when it’s in flower.

Podranea ricasoliana
Especially when the flowers look like this.

Pavonia hastata
Transitioning from the pinks side of the yard to the red side of the yard is the pale pavonia.

Rhodophiala bifida
But there is only one reason to visit my garden in September–oxblood lilies.

Rhodophiala bifida
And more oxblood lilies.

Rhodophiala bifida
And more oxblood lilies. I couldn’t be bothered to do anything else today but lie around looking at them.

Complete List for September

The list of all plants flowering today, September 15th 2009, at Zanthan Gardens. You can compare with GBBD September 2007 which was Austin’s unusually cool and rainy summer. I didn’t do a GBBD post in September 2008 because I was busy with work and the garden had already suffered the effects of the drought, even a year ago.

  • Duranta erecta
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lindheimer senna
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’
  • Oxalis (purple)
  • Pavonia hastata
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Podranea ricasoliana
  • Rhodophialia bifida
  • Ruellia, the woody and the viney kind but not the passalong
  • rose ‘Ducher’
  • Tradescantia pallida/Setcreasia (purple heart) both colors
  • water lily
  • widow’s tears/true dayflower–some type of commelina
  • Zephyrathes grandiflora
  • Zephyranthes ‘Labuffarosea’
  • Zephyranthes (tiny white)
  • Zephyranthes (large white)

Rhodophiala bifida oxblood lily
Gratuitous photo of oxblood lilies because it’s that time of year.

September 30th, 2008
Garden Clogs

The one time my mother was able to visit me here at Zanthan Gardens, she wanted to buy me a present for the garden. Together we picked out some garden clogs from the Muck Boot Co. I liked them very much and wore them for six years until they cracked. When I went to buy some more, I couldn’t find them in Austin. I would have tried to buy them online but I couldn’t remember the size and I seemed to remember that it was larger than my street shoe size. I looked in the shoes, but if the size had been printed there it was worn. So, I gave up my quest for new garden clogs

AJM kept nagging me (in the friendliest, most loving and concerned way, of course) to get some new shoes. One day we saw some Crocs on sale at the Whole Earth Provision Co. They fit and were only $9.99 so I bought them. Problem solved.

Crocs are not garden clogs

Not. The Crocs are completely unsuitable for gardening. I’m not sure how that nail missed going through my heel; I’m just thankful it did. It went through the side of the shoe. And when Vertie and I went to get recycled glass mulch, I knew I’d made a mistake wearing them.

AJM continued to gently remind me that I needed to buy some new and appropriate garden shoes.

So when Kathy @ Cold Climate Gardening tweeted that Lee Valley was having a “no shipping charge” sale for four short days, I decided to see if they had any garden clogs. I had consulted with Carol @ May Dreams Gardens. She has Muck Boots, too. In the end, I just bought a pair that looked most like the ones I had.

Crocs are not garden clogs

These new Bogs are certainly sturdy shoes with a wonderful gripping sole. The label promises that they are “warm, comfortable, and waterproof”. I tried them on and they do feel warm and comfortable. I’m not sure that when it’s still in the 90s that warm is a good thing. However, they are also embedded with the “Aegis Microbe Shield™” to protect against “odor, staining, and deterioration”. Maybe that will guard against my sweaty feet.

oxblood lilies

September 10th, 2008
Fall Reds: 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.

oxblood lily bulbs
Inventorying the oxblood lilies and digging up bulbs to replant is usually one of my favorite garden tasks. So why is this year different?

October 3rd, 2007
When Gardening’s A Chore

I don’t really think of myself as a gardener, not in the sense of designing with plants or creating beautiful garden spaces. I just like to putter around outside, especially if it means digging in the dirt. I’m turned on by turning compost. I like growing plants from seeds and collecting seeds from plants. Most of all I like harvesting crops from the earth, like potatoes, or flower bulbs. My most extensive collection of bulbs is my oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, collection. Someone called it my signature flower. I like that.

In 1995, I dug up 64 bulbs in my front lawn, 28 of which were flowering size and the rest which were very small and took several years to flower. Today, as near as I can make out, I have over 1400 bulbs in about 64 different clumps. The growth is, well, exponential. And that was great when I had only 100, then 200, then 400. But this year I’ve reached the breaking point. Not only do I not have enough room in the garden to plant them, I don’t have the time to dig the holes, to divide them, count them, catalog them, and find people to take them. (Calling Austin bloggers. Also, Steve and Bill. Will they grow up in North Texas?)

oxblood lily bulbs
Clump 2002e-13 was in serious need of dividing. From 13 bulbs to 128 bulbs in five years: almost a 10-fold increase.

I read somewhere that oxblood lilies don’t need dividing. Although it is true they will continue to live for years with complete neglect, the bulbs will get smaller and smaller crowding each other out and eventually the flowers will decrease. That’s one reason I take counts and keep records– to track when I planted each clump and how big the bulbs were and how many flowers each produced and the habits of the plants (multi-stems, seeds, more offsets than flowers). This year I lost track. I don’t like not knowing. It makes me feel uneasy and not in control. I even had four clumps left over from last year I never got replanted. That’s bad management! This year I’m going to have to be brutal. In the past, I saved every sliver of a bulb and put it in the nursery where it might take four or five years to reach flowering size. Today, into the compost pile. (Oh! that hurt!) I must focus my attention only on the clumps that need dividing most desperately.

Where to begin? Instead of anticipating my inventory and looking forward to dividing my bulbs and multiplying my holdings, I just stare at the faded flower stalks with a heavy heart. The task at hand seems overwhelming. I attribute my garden grumpiness to the weather. We’ve gone from an unusually cool and rainy summer to an unusually hot and dry fall. Temperatures are still in the 90s and we haven’t had a good rain for three weeks. It’s hot out there and I’m not having any fun tackling fall gardening tasks. I admit that I was completely spoiled by our great summer. But this is October and I get cranky when the grass dries up in the heat and none of the self-sowers have sprouted and the pecans are filled with webworms and the caterpillars are attacking the roses and I haven’t finished turning the compost pile or weeding the meadow. I don’t have time to deal with any of it because I have all these bulbs to divide. Yep, I’m cranky and tired of the heat and wanting a little breath of crisp northern air to liven me and the garden up.

Does this mean I threw in the trowel? Indeed it does not. We gardeners are made of sterner stuff. We press on. Bad moods pass and when the weather turns so will my mood.

Zanthan Gardens: fall meadow
2007-09-04. The meadow is in full bloom with garlic chives, cosmos, and Lindheimer senna. Now all it needs is a Pride of Barbados.

September 10th, 2007
Week 36: 9/3 – 9/9

Dateline: 2007
All of you non-Austinites are probably tired of oxblood lily photos but they came on strong in Week 36 this year, thanks to rains the preceding weekend. We do love our signature flower, even though it’s not a native Texan. I’ll post a photo of the meadow instead. It rarely looks this nice in the fall.

Despite our very mild and wet summer this year, the signs of fall sends the blood quickening in the veins of us southerners–just like spring for you northerners. I still shudder thinking about that horrible year 2000, the hottest week on record. On September 5, 2000 we hit the highest temperature ever recorded in Austin, 112F degrees (44.4C). We broke records for five days starting 9/1 (107), 9/2 (107), 9/3 (108), 9/4 (110) and 9/5 (112). What kind of autumn weather is that! So you can see why I’ve been so happy with 2007. This has been the best summer I’ve ever lived through in Austin. Weatherwise.

I even had two new flowers open this week: the diminuitive Oxalis drummondii, and the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage). The latter is hidden under a huge mat of cypress vine. I almost didn’t see it. It needs to be relocated to the new sunny back yard. Almost every rose had at least a flower or two. And for the first time since I’ve lived here (14 years) the pecan tree is heavy with pecans. Usually the squirrels eat them green in August. I guess they’re getting enough food and water not to resort to that this year. About five persimmons have survived and are starting to turn orange. I’ve covered them with net because last year something ate them before I could. I was devastated. I also have quite a few bluebonnets which survived the summer. They often sprout when the seeds drop in May but those early starters usually die in the summer heat.

I’ve been buying seeds for the fall garden. I planted squash and bush beans and sunflowers–which I should have planted in August. It always seems too hot then. These are all new to my fall garden so I don’t know how they’ll do this late. I bought varieties with short maturation time. Our first freeze usually isn’t until Thanksgiving. I find in interesting that both Angelina (Oregon) and Carol (Indiana) have said that they’re packing in their vegetable gardens for the year. In Austin, this is a good time to start fall crops like broccoli, cabbages, snowpeas, and lettuce. I want to try some chard. Even if we don’t eat it, it’s so beautiful.

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oxblood lily
2006-09-10. Despite my many dead-ends in bulb trials, I can always count on the original cast to pull through for me when the going gets tough.

September 8th, 2006
3. First Love–Southern Bulbs

In one of Allen Lacy’s books he recalls how bearded irises awakened his passion for plants as a child. Later he says that he no longer grows bearded irises and explains the reasons for giving them up. I read this when I was in love with bearded irises myself and so I was shocked that anyone could be so fickle.

Now years later with several love affairs under my belt, I can understand better how plant passions rise and wane. Annie in Austin reminds me that I’m not the gardener I was when I began 13 years ago; might I be looking for change? Before I answer, let me look back and recall those first loves, not just for the sake of nostalgia but to see what I can discover about this garden and this gardener.

I inherited a well-established landscape and so I felt no requirement to design a garden. My approach was to tweak and twiddle. I’d look out the window while doing the dishes and watch where the light fell at certain times of the day and think, “What would look good there?”

Beginning in fall the first year my garden revealed its secrets, heirloom bulbs: oxblood lilies, red spider lilies, garlic chives, oxalis, paperwhite narcissus (two kinds), ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils, summer snowflakes, starch hyacinths, bearded iris, and rainlilies. Bulbs appeal to my acquisitive nature. It’s hard to know whether I get more pleasure from watching them bloom or digging them up.

The farthest north I’ve lived in America is Las Vegas so I knew I couldn’t grow the traditional spring bulbs hyped in catalogs and garden books. A friend attended a lecture by Scott Ogden at Barton Springs Nursery and brought me a three page list of “Garden Bulbs for Central Texas”. Excited by the possibilities of bulbs suited to our clime but completely ignorant of any of the bulbs on the list, I bought Scott Ogden’s Garden Bulbs for the South; it was my bible for years.

I felt fortunate to have a yard which already had so many heirloom bulbs. I had a difficult time (in those days before the internet) finding sources for the bulbs I was falling in love with in print. I received a catalog from McClure & Zimmerman. Here, described in straightforward text in pages 3 columns wide, listed alphabetically were all the bulbs I’d ever wanted. (I still prefer their print catalog to their online catalog which I find annoying to navigate.)

Over the years I’ve purchased Acidanthera bicolor, Crocus speciosus ‘Cassiope’ and ‘Conqueror’, Crocus tommasianus, ‘Angelique’ tulips, the daffodils ‘Quail,’ ‘Trevithian’, ‘Jetfire’, ‘Triparite’, and ‘Minnow’ and the Alliums neopolitanum and sphaerocephalon. These all bloomed beautifully and came back for a year or two. But unlike my dream of bulbs naturalizing and my collection growing exponentially, these bulbs decreased year after year and I no longer have any of them. Then there’s the true lilies; I never expected them to survive Texas.

Should I also mention the caladiums, gladiolus, amaryllis, sprekelia, hymenocallis, crinum and canna here? They aren’t completely dead but neither are they thriving.

I did successfully introducing five bulbs: Tulipa clusiana, Hyacinthoides hispanica, Zephyranthes grandiflora, St. Joseph’s Lily, and the diminuitive daffodil ‘Hawera’ (which was packed as a bonus from McClure & Zimmerman.)

So I’m basically back where I started with bulbs. Okay, my oxblood lily collection has expanded from 30 bulbs in the front yard to over 1000 in a special garden made just for them. But when those other bulbs I bought disappeared, I became frustrated with the effort especially since most bulbs bloom only a couple of weeks out of the year. My attention was drawn to more showy flowers and I stopped buying bulbs.

Lesson Learned
Bulbs (rhizomes, tubers, and corms) are my stealth success. They make a big splash in the design only once in awhile. All my bulbs benefit from lifting and dividing. Not all of them require it but the soil they grow in does. Tree roots again. So my dreams of naturalized drifts of species bulbs never materialized.

As I looked over my bulb lists and photos while writing this post, I could feel the old longings stirring. If I reset my expectations and think of bulbs like other short-lived perennials, then I could consider buying bulbs again. I would love to reacquaint myself the daffodil ‘Quail’–it has a luscious orange scent and was the most vigorous of all the daffocils I tried. I think it might have rotted in one of our very wet years rather than withered in one of very dry years.

I’d also like the fall crocuses again. They are very small but they are charming in the buffalograss.

Despite my many dead-ends in bulb trials, I can always count on the original cast to pull through for me when the going gets tough.

If you live in central Texas, I’d love to know what bulbs you’ve grown and which ones failed or succeeded for you and over what period of time. I’m particularly interested in bulbs which have lasted more than 5 years.

If you are looking for a source for southern heirloom bulbs there is a new company in north Texas, The Southern Bulb Co which has been in the news lately. I haven’t ordered from them yet but their catalog has all the tried and true bulbs in my back yard. However, if you live in Austin, I can make you a better deal on oxblood lilies than $9 a bulb.
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Rhodophiala bifida
I’m cheating a bit because this is a photo from last September…anticipation.

September 1st, 2006
It’s Official–It’s Fall in Austin

Just as gardeners who I read about in books anxiously look for spring in the first buds of crocuses pushing through the snow, we Austin gardeners look for the first sign of fall in the buds of the oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida). Last Sunday (8/27) I noticed some buds in a bed I was watering and thought, “Summer can’t last much longer now.”

And then Tuesday morning (8/29) a front pushed through and it rained. The rain wasn’t much; it barely soaked in a 1/32 of an inch. But when you haven’t had rain in almost two months every drop is glorious. And the temperatures! The high was only in the 80s. The low dropped into the 60s. Oh it really did feel like fall, for a day.

Wednesday morning I looked out my bedroom window and saw the first oxblood lilies in bloom. I jumped up and ran out to look at them. It wasn’t the rain that caused them to flower; it was because they were near some lavender I was watering. (As usual, they flowered for Rantor first, who reported first flower on 8/23–and also that the Spanish name is azucenita roja.)

Never mind that on Thursday Austin was back to 102, Friday 100. This weekend rain is in the forecast. And next week our highs will only be in the 90s. Yep. Fall is here. An oxblood lily told me.

Zanthan Gardens 2004-09-18
2004-09-18. The Stump Garden with Oxblood Lilies.

September 18th, 2004
Picture Perfect

This picture lies. I wish the garden really were as cool and inviting as this picture makes it look. But it isn’t. I took this shot of the oxblood lilies about 10 on Saturday morning. It was only in the mid-80s, but very muggy–the kind of summer weather that makes you retreat inside to a cold lemonade. I had just mown the lawn the night before, and with our rain last week it’s greened up. But the telephoto lens compresses the focus, making tha garden seem more compact and comely than it is.

My neighbor’s yard is a mass of lantana right now and I benefit because the butterflies it attracts wander over to my yard. They seem fond of the garlic chives. I have some lantana, too. But I have too much shade to suit it and it rarely blooms.

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

September 26th, 2003
Rhodophiala bifida 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?

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