When Life Gives You Rain, Make Rain Lilies

Evening rain lily (Cooperia drummondii)

Everyone knows the aphorism, although few know it originated with Elbert Hubbard, founder of an arts and crafts community in New York State known as Roycroft. Proprietor of the eponymous Roycroft Press, an enterprise modeled after William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, Hubbard published two influential magazines known as The Philistine and The Fra.

He also published a 1915 obituary for actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder. In it, Hubbard praised Wilder’s optimistic attitude and achievements despite significant physical disabilities:

“He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.”

Twenty-five years later, a variation on Hubbard’s phrase appeared in a poem titled “The Optimist,” which appeared in a 1940 edition of The Rotarian magazine:

“Life handed him a lemon,
As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade.”

Dale Carnegie, true to his didactic nature, rephrased the image for his 1948 book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. He advised his readers, “If you have a lemon, make a lemonade.”

Today, it’s Hubbard’s phrasing that’s most often heard, although Fate has fallen out of favor and the expression has been revised accordingly: “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Nature isn’t in the lemonade-making business, but I was certain that, given Hurricane Harvey’s feet of rain, she would turn sooner rather than later to rain-lily-making.

And so it has been. The Texas natives — sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs or small clusters — recently began appearing everywhere: in schoolyards, highway medians, vacant lots, and lawns. The great sweeps of flowers which sometime emerge haven’t yet made an appearance, but even a single rain lily is worth admiring.

After a day or two, the delicate flowers begin to fade, turning first to a delicate pink, and then to a deeper, richer color.

Eventually a pod forms, tightly packed with black, shiny seeds. Less noticeable than the flowers (as in the photo below), they’re nonetheless an assurance that, when the next great rains arrive, rain-lily-making surely will follow.


Comments always are welcome.


52 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Rain, Make Rain Lilies

    1. They’re a delightful flower, and one that I’ve finally learned to “see” as I’m driving around. I used to think they weren’t common here, but now I suspect I was simply blind to their presence. I’m hoping these are scouts, and that we still might get great spreads of them.

    1. The saying about making lemonade from lemons has become so trite, but for some reason it came to mind, and I thought tweaking the saying a bit would be fun. I’ve wondered how the plants and treees would respond to three feet and more of rain. Now, some answers are beginning to come: palm trees are turning yellow, and rain lilies are in their element.

      I’m happy you enjoyed the post, Pete.

  1. Swooning over your photos–whew! Funnily enough, my one little volunteer rain lily hasn’t bloomed, though it did twice after some summer rains. I guess it thinks that’s enough. Lucky for me, I’ve been given some seeds to spread out. :)

    1. I wonder if yours might be one of our other species: Cooperia pedunculata. It tends to bloom in early spring and summer, while this one prefers fall. Of course, everything’s shown signs of confusion recently, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not the explanation. Seeds from C. drummondii will provide some fall blooms for you!

    1. I suppose I shouldn’t be laughing, but rarely has a single sentence be open to so many interpretations. Wry? Petulant? Envious? Resigned? At least it seems your heat has broken a bit — may the rain follow soon.

    1. I’ve seen rain lilies that are in the genus Zephyranthes, which I suspect yours are, and they’re actually a bit larger than these. Photographs can be tricky — a macro photo of a little, bitty spider can make the thing look like it’s ready to have one of us for dinner.

      Thinking about you as Irma hits the Keys and begins that journey north. I saw that landfall was 20 miles east of the NHC prediction. It will make some difference for Miami-Dade. I hope you’re well secured, and come through it all well.

      1. Camera angles are quite deceiving at times.
        We are as prepared as we can be, but thankful for Irma’s slight shift to the west. Just wish she’d speed up – at 4 mph, this is going to take forever!!

            1. More or less. I suppose the most “interesting” damage was to the glass skyscrapers downtown. Windows kept breaking and sending glass into the streets below. Everyone assumed at first it was wind-caused, but it turned out to have been the gravel on top of the buildings roofs. A change in building codes took care of that.

              I came through that one fine, too, despite some frayed nerves. The best part was that the eye came right over us, so I had the experience of seeing the stars and flying birds in the eye. It was great — until the other side of the eyewall showed up.

            2. I agree, the eye is quite an experience. I went through one as a kid and it felt like a vacuum, as though my voice was being sucked up somehow and so quiet.

  2. I love these rain lilies! By nature, I tend to be an optimist, and I’m a big fan of Dale Carnegie, so of course, I’m familiar with his advice. You’ve got some great photos here. I especially love the one with all the water spots on it. So delicate, almost like fine china!

    1. Your positive and optimistic nature even shines in the tweets you send out now and then, Debbie. I still remember that photo you posted of your tomato “crop” in the middle of August.

      These flowers are delicate, and the texture of the petals is especially nice. As for rain and dew drops, any time I can find them, I’m entranced. It’s been so long since I’ve been out with my camera I had some problems remembering all the little tricks and techniques I’ve learned, but I was happy enough with the results here.

  3. I love it when you get O’Keeffe-y. That top photo is just perfect. You ought to investigate having an etsy shop with limited edition giclee prints.

    1. If I’d posted only that top photo in isolation, I might have titled it, “We Who Are About To Start Withering, Salute You.”

      As for Etsy — a few years of eBay selling was experience enough to know what that would entail. It certainly wouldn’t be as profitable as eBay was for me, and what I’d have to learn about all the aspects of printing, etc., would eat up a lot of time I don’t have. Well, time I’d rather devote to other things. I love the seeing and the sharing, but the selling just holds no appeal. Maybe I’ll just learn how to print some of these and give them away, instead.

  4. I’m smiling at the O’Keef’y reference, cos it’s so true! Gorgeous images and very interesting about the origins of that saying. Nature does rely on unusual weather I believe, to set off the reproductive process for some plants. Many Aust Bush natives won’t germinate unless there’s been fire or floods. One year in this region, they had both!

    1. The beginnings of so many proverbs and common sayings are lost, but this one seems to have a fairly certain starting point. Of course, the same bit of wisdom can appear in widely separated communities — maybe that’s why we call it “common” sense. There are certain ways of seeing the world and its events that are common to people everywhere.

      Another commonality between your part of the world and mine is that need for fire or flood for germination. The adaptations in nature are mysterious and fascinating, for sure.

      I learned something else interesting this morning. Yesterday, a friend and I went to a restaurant called the Stingaree for lunch. I had no idea what the word meant, and neither did our waitress or the hostess. This morning I finally turned to the good Google, and learned that it’s an Australian term for a stingray: particularly, the common stingaree (Trygonoptera testacea). Here’s a reference for it.

      What’s amusing is that high schools in both Victoria, Texas (where I once lived) and in Texas City (just down the road) have the Stingaree as their mascot. I knew that word was familiar!

  5. These are marvelous, Linda. I always look for the lilies after a rain. I don’t have any in my yard but my neighbored has a sizable colony The pics are great and its good that you have found something
    positive after the storm.

    1. I was in Galveston yesterday, and found a highway median filled with them — all in the process of forming their seeds. I wish I knew how long it takes for the seeds to form, because I could collect a lot of them in that spot — provided they don’t mow.

      I may go back to where these were blooming, and see how they’ve come along. If nothing else, I could find one just starting to form the seed pod, and watch it day by day. The land’s part of an old power plant, and they don’t do a lot of mowing even under normal circumstances. With the county and the power company involved in post-hurricane work, mowing may be a low priority, and I might get to see the entire process unfold.

  6. After the blossom has closed and dried, I’m thinking the seed pod forms in about a week- but I could be way off. I’ve seen them with the seeds in a partially open pod. The seeds are sort of flat and very black. I should have gotten some years ago but I am dumber than dumb most of the time. Woulda, shouda and, coulda is about the way I’ve gone through life.

    1. You made me laugh, Yvonne. We all have good intentions that never pan out. As for those seeds, the last time I saw some, I thought they looked like black patent leather, they were so shiny. Nature really packs them in, too. For sheer efficiency, I’d say the rain lily rivals milkweed. I’m always surprised by how many seeds each plant produces.

    1. They truly are like botanical rainbows. It’s impossible to predict precisely where and when they’ll appear, but when the conditions are right, they pop right up. They’re a beautiful flower, no question about that — and one of my favorites.

  7. Ah, Roycroft. Love it.

    I never heard of the rain lily but oh, your photos are so lovely. The droplets of water. Yes, I’m one for grabbing lemonade wherever it can be found, especially when it is sorely needed. I hope those who needed it most took note.

    1. The Fra is one of my favorites from that era: not so much for the articles, but for the beautiful graphics. On the other hand, there are some great essays included. When I first discovered the magazine, I spent a good bit of time just browsing the issues that are available online.

      As for lemonade, isn’t it interesting that something so sour and bitter by itself — the venerable lemon — can become so refreshing when mixed with other ingredients? It doesn’t even have to be sugar and water — remember Leinenkugel’s summer shandy, beloved of early bicyclists? They knew what they were doing when they mixed lemonade with beer.

    1. Wouldn’t that be great? I’ve never thought of that as a possibility. I always assumed, in a casual way, that it was simply Fate falling out of favor as a carrier of flavor.

    1. That’s what your new garden is, Dina — a big pitcher of lemonade. Not only that, the lemons-into-lemonade aspect of your upcoming surgery may be that you’ll have more time to enjoy it.

  8. Nature has her ways, Linda, of profiting from what we see as natural disasters. This is certainly true of fires that reinvigorate the forest. It was only our devotion to Smokey Bear that led to debris filled forests that guarantee trees will go up in flame as well as underbrush. Even then nature comes back in full force, however. I really liked the close-up showing the dew. –Curt

    1. Have you read John McPhee’s book, The Control of Nature? The irony implicit in the title is that our hold on nature’s processes is tenuous at best. More often than not, attempts to impose our will on those processes backfires mightily. I found his work during the Mississippi/Atchafalaya flood some years ago, and realized with a shock that the day surely will come when the Mississippi has its way, and a new channel will bypass all of our control structures and levees.

      I was more than a little surprised to find dewy flowers when I came across those lilies, since it was nearly 3 in the afternoon — long past the time when dew disappears. The only explanation I could come up with was that after 40 inches of rain there was a layer of very high humidity hanging above the saturated ground. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

      1. I am a fan of McPhee’s, Linda. The Mississippi is going to do what it is going to do. Nature will have her way. I just finished one McPhee book, BTW, “Irons in the Fire,” and am presently reading his latest book, Draft 4. It’s on his approach to writing.
        Pretty sure your story is right on. I imagine everything in your neck of the woods is feeling a little dewy now. –Curt

        1. I didn’t know that Draft No. 4 was out, but it’s on its way to me now. I’ve often said that when I grow up I’d not mind being John McPhee — a statement which is both true and untrue. I’m happy being myself, but I’d love to develop the bits of my writing “technique” that are akin to his. I needs to get serious, I do.

          I read a review of the book in the New Republic just now, and grinned at this, from the master himself: “I have no technique for asking questions. I just stay there and fade away as I watch people do what they do.”

          1. I like that, Linda. Don’t let your ego get entangled. Just listen and be interested. Much easier said than done, of course. I’ve been enjoying the book, and learning from it. –Curt

    1. They are beautiful. We have two white native rain lilies. This one’s the smaller — about two inches across, and usually about a foot tall. Once or twice, I’ve found a fairly large stand of them, and they have the most delightful fragrance imaginable: very light, and almost lilac-y.

    1. Yes, they do, if you find large enough stands of them. Some people think they smell like vanilla. I’ve always thought they had the faint scent of lilacs. They are lovely — and now they’re starting to come up again. So are other plants — like the milkweeds. Even in spring and early summer I never saw as much milkweed as I’m seeing now. I suspect there are some butterflies that will appreciate them.

        1. Yes, they surely did. I’ve read that the insectivores may do better than we’d expect, but the hummingbirds, particularly, are going to be short on food for their flight across the Gulf. In Rockport, there’s an effort to get people to put up as many feeders as possible. People are donating feeders, poles, sugar, and so on, to try and get them nourished.

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