The First of the Ditch Diamonds

You probably won’t find ‘ditch diamonds’ listed in any field guide to native plants. It’s my personal descriptor for a wide variety of wildflowers that prefer the damp — even wet — growing conditions that ditches generally provide.

Blue Flags, Water Canna, Alligator Flag, and Arrowhead are spring and summer delights that can be found in the ditches, along with the widespread and beloved Spider Lily (Hymenocallis liriosme) shown above. A common sight in coastal and southeastern Texas, it blooms from February through September, although our freezing weather slowed its emergence this year.

Still, the operative word is ‘slowed,’ not ‘stopped.’ Yesterday morning, as I traveled FM 2004 outside the town of Lake Jackson, a bit of white caught my eye. It was a single spider lily plant, in full bloom. Apart from the delight of finding my first ditch diamond of the year, I was amused by the timing. Commenting on my recent post about the cranefly orchid, Steve Schwartzman mentioned that our part of the state has another plant named for an insect: the spider lilies. Ever helpful, nature provided an example within twenty-four hours.

In time, ditches will fill with hundreds of these plants. For now, this single lovely specimen serves as a reminder that even when delayed, spring will not be denied.

 

Comments always are welcome.

59 thoughts on “The First of the Ditch Diamonds

  1. Every time I think I’ve seen every kind of flower there is, guess what. If they were black, they’d be the perfect flower for Morticia Addams to raise.

    1. Who knows? Morticia might like them in white, too. Still, your suggestion’s a good one — at least, for her. Little Miss White-Flower-Lover that I am, the white makes me perfectly happy. It’s easier to spot at 65 mph, too.

  2. On a county road back behind my house, a short (long and winding way) from Hwy 6 to home, there is a bend in the road where the ditch is almost always full. In that out of the way spot is the largest colony of spider lilies I have seen. I know those “ditch diamonds” were blooming before the freeze… But I haven’t had cause to drive back there since. I am sure they felt the freeze but will return if they haven’t already.

    1. I suspect yours may be blooming again; if not, they surely will soon. Some of the flowers I saw prior to the freeze, like the ten-petal anemones, are back in force.

      I’ve seen two truly spectacular spreads of these flowers. One was alongside TX 71 between Garwood and Altair, but more memorable was a section of Brazoria prairie that was burned in 2017. The entire section was covered with spider lilies: thousands of plants, instead of hundreds. I just looked at my photos again, and it occurred to me that a drone might have been able to capture the splendor. Ground-level me got some nice photos, but I just couldn’t capture the enormity of the bloom.

    1. As it happens, I have a few ditch diamond photos tucked away that I’ve not yet shown. It’s been one of those good ideas that always has been pushed off to ‘later.’ Now that spring has rolled around again, it’s a better time to post them, especially as new exemplars begin to bloom.

    1. They’re such photogenic plants, and they do attract attention. Somehow they manage to be simple and complex at the same time, and their fragrance is marvelous. I’d never smelled them until I found a larger group; then, I knew what people were talking about. If you’ve never experienced their fragrance, and find a nice spread of them this year, stop and take a whiff.

    1. My knowledge is increasing, but it’s still slim. On the other hand, I remember the days when I described everything as “a pretty flower.” Then, I got a camera and started roaming around. It wasn’t long until I started wondering, “What is that?” I couldn’t post my photos without knowing what I’d seen — and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s also meant a lot of hours spent pouring through books and websites, but it’s been great fun.

    1. The native plants seems to have done just fine — as I’d expect. Even some that died back to the ground are showing signs of life. I found one very special beautyberry putting out buds yesterday — photos of that one to come.

  3. I grew up hearing people call the orange day-lily a “ditch lily,” and always felt like that was kind of an undeserved slur, but I guess it’s just the reality, they do seem to like ditches. This spider lily is great, pretty exotic-looking.

    1. Somewhere along the line, I learned that the daylilies aren’t native to the U.S. They come from Asia, primarily China, Korea, and Japan. Not only that, the taxonomists have decided they’re not even a true lily; they plunked them into a new category in 2009. I’ll spare you the details, but they now belong in the genus Hemerocallis. They are pretty, and I certainly have seen them filling ditches, although I seem to remember them being farther north: not New York, certainly, but maybe Oklahoma. I suspect they might be in gardens here, too, but I hope they don’t escape.

      1. I saw that too, that they aren’t native, I was surprised. There’s plenty around, but they don’t ever seem to be a problem, not a real invasive pest, like the phragmites or garlic mustard.

  4. my spider lilies are at the moment devoid of foliage it all having turned to mush. while I’m seeing some signs of growth from the red crinums, nothing yet from the spider lilies. I’m surprised the one you found is blooming.

    1. It certainly had perfect conditions: damp ground and full sunlight. It looked to me as though it had the added benefit of a pre-freeze mowing, so once the warmup began, it would have been quick. I’m glad you reminded me of our native Crinum lily: Crinum americanum. I know of a couple of spots where they can be found, but it’s still early. The Wildflower.org site says June is the beginning of their bloom cycle. I suppose others might bloom earlier.

      I found plenty of buttercups yesterday, and I’ve never seen such thick crow poison alongside the roads. Even that little flower is impressive in the thousands.

    1. Isn’t it a fun phrase? I came up with it about three years ago, but never found reason to mention it, until my little spider lily brought it to mind again.

  5. Ditches have some unfortunate connotations to them. Finding diamonds in one sure does boost its reputation. There is one nearby that I visit in the early spring for bloodroot, yellow violets, and trout lilies. Your spider lily is particularly lovely.

    1. Our ditches are fairly well maintained, since they’re so important in flood control. Some of them are fairly deep, and with the water table so high, they stay wet enough to support everything from iris to cattails. Here’s a late spring view of how dense the spiderlilies can become. Pretty, huh?

    1. They mostly don’t droop, either, which keeps that elegance going for some time. Each plant has several buds, so it keeps on blooming for a while. They’d love your ditch, at least until September showed up!

    1. Oh, don’t we wish! In truth, I’d be happier if we could just have a couple nice months of spring. I noticed tonight that the NWS is putting out “don’t leave Granny or the dog in a hot car” alerts already. I hope they’re just teaching the interns how to post to social media, and don’t know something they haven’t told us about the forecast!

  6. That’s a joyful photo!! I love those blooms, so graceful and elegant. I used to have some that someone gave me, but no idea of the actual name, just ‘spider lily’. They eventually succumbed to an invasion of beetles. Glad that group caught your eye!

    1. Did you have yours around the pond? It seems like it would have been a good place for them. I’ll never grow them, but I have learned a good bit about how to go about it, and one of the most interesting tidbits was advice to keep the bulbs from getting too wet prior to getting established, lest they rot. Do you happen to remember if it was some sort of flower beetle that took them out? I’ve come across a couple of species of those, and they’re pretty cool insects.

  7. I have two spider lilies; gifts from an aunt in Jasper. She bought them at a nursery where they were called firecracker lilies. When they flower, they are the showcase. They thrive when there’s the right amount of rain and that hasn’t happened the last couple of years. The recent Deep Freeze set them back. I pray they find their place in the sun again. Really soon. White flowers are beyond beautiful in the dark.

    1. That’s an interesting name for these. Were they red, by any chance? I know there are some other species that are red, and they’re really lovely. On the other hand, plant breeders do come up with unusual names, and I suppose someone could have seen the shape of the flower as being like an exploding firework. You’re certainly right about the ability of white flowers to glow, even at dusk and beyond. It’s one of the things that makes them so appealing.

      1. The lilies are white. My husband hates them and kept mowing them down until they struggle to thrive the last two years. I love them and nurture them as best I can. They like our clay soil.

  8. That is one wild looking plant, Linda. I can picture you driving along and coming to a screeching halt at the sight of some flowers or the other in a ditch. Maybe you should have a bumper strip made: Warning,This Car Brakes for Flowers!

    1. Believe it or not, the bumper sticker exists. I’ve seen a couple of them on cars in the past, and I always smile.

      I do have a tendency to stop — or, as I did for this gem, turn around, retrace my route, and then make a second pass to see if I really did see what I thought I saw. For two years my eye doctor muttered about how puzzling it was that my peripheral vision was improving. I told him it was because I always drove with one eye or the other on the ditches.

      1. I can believe it on the bumper strips, Linda. And the peripheral vision. Grin. My dad used to always be on the lookout for flowers along the road, but he would see one and start driving toward it! Scary.

        1. I know a little about that habit of your dad’s. That’s why I have a post in my draft files titled “A Prairie’s Siren Song” — and the siren has nothing to do with mermaids!

    1. It’s one of our prettiest spring flowers. I don’t know if I was more surprised or more delighted to find it, but there was no way I was going to pass it by.

  9. Prettier than any diamond I ever seen. I’d love to gather the dust from the anthers and use it to dye cloth. It would be everlasting.

    1. I just did a casual search to see if I could find anything about using this plant for dye, but didn’t come across anything. I suspect you’re right, though, and as pollen-laden as these plants are, it wouldn’t take many to give you what you needed. They remind me of saffron.

      1. A neighbour years ago gave me some tiger Lily blooms, but warned me to avoid contact with the pollen which stained. No delicate doilies under the vase. When I saw the mass growing in the ditch, I could see the potential. Saffron is edible, but I wouldn’t chance these.

        1. You’re a wise woman. All parts of this one are toxic; bulb, leaves, and so on. They contain the alkaloid lycorine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. The good news about that seems to be that if they’re planted around a pond, the fish will leave them alone, although I read that dead foliage should be cleaned out of ponds. I learned my lesson about lily pollen when a neighbor gave me some Easter lilies. What a mess!

  10. There is consolation in the immutability of nature. Your ditch diamonds will grace the wet areas and bring joy, delayed by unexpected inclement weather, but not deterred. Enjoy them all!

    1. A single one of these flowers is delightful — especially as a first sign of spring — but a ditch filled with them is even more appealing. For one thing, the fragrance becomes obvious; light and pleasant, it’s as pleasant as the sight of the flowers.

  11. The Spider Lily is a pretty thing! I’ve never seen it before. Your flower talk has gotten me going, but we are still a long time from flower time here. (Sigh.)

        1. Oh, whoops! Still, we’re nearly to the equinox, and plants that take their cues more from light than from temperature are beginning to stir. It’s hard to believe that only three weeks ago we were in ice and snow. Today, I smelled fresh-cut grass for the first time this year!

  12. “Spring will not be denied.”
    I need a Tee-shirt with that message emblazoned on it!

    Your “ditch-diamonds” moniker is perfect! Around here, we can almost always find a ditch or depression that is at the very least damp but more than likely filled with a bit of the stagnant water that ‘skeeters and spider lilies love so much.

    Thank you for sharing an image and providing a reminder about Nature’s jewelry box.

    1. I think we’re all eager for a variety of ‘springs’ this year. A tee-shirt affirming spring’s ability to overcome winter seems like just the ticket.

      I was casually curious about the number of aquatic plants in your state, and the number here. I couldn’t find much information, except that Florida has ‘hundreds’ of such plants. Most Texas lists are limited by region. Given the state’s size, that makes sense. I did find a Parks and Wildlife site that gave me an ID for a mysterious plant I found at the San Bernard refuge, proving once again the value of serendipitous discovery. Here’s to a spring filled with such joys!

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