Those Unpredictable Rain Lilies

Eleven lilies and a bud


On July 4th, I found the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge nearly deserted; only a few birds and even fewer humans stirred in the heat. In some areas, a different sort of emptiness prevailed. Since my last visit, mowers had been at work, cutting wide roadside swaths, as well as entire fields, neatly to the ground.

Since the refuge is managed for wildlife, particularly waterfowl, it makes sense that wildflowers might not be the first consideration, but it was disappointing to find stubble where I’d hoped to find flowers.

On the other hand, an unexpected treat awaited me. Rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) decorated the road leading into the refuge, and had spread throughout the refuge itself. Despite our consistent rains, it hadn’t occurred to me that they might be appearing, but hundreds already had bloomed, rising from bulbs undisturbed by the mowing.

Despite being so numerous, the flowers were too scattered for their fragrance to be detectable. Still, the occasional clumps of fresh, white flowers were delightful, and even a single rain lily pleases the eye.


Comments always are welcome.

69 thoughts on “Those Unpredictable Rain Lilies

  1. Somehow I don’t think of rain lilies in a coastal place like Brazoria—and from what you say, their presence there took you by surprise, too. At least they compensated you for what wasn’t in the mowed areas.

    1. Their presence wasn’t so surprising; it was only that they popped up so quickly, and I’d not thought to look for them. Over the years, I’ve found substantial numbers of them near the ferry landing in Galveston, along Highway 146 in Texas City, at the Kelly Hamby nature trail, and on a back road near Palacios. What really surprised me was finding them on the Willow City Loop, blooming next to a prickly pear, but that reminds me that one of my favorite photos of one was taken on a ranch road outside Kerrville. They’re clearly as adaptable as they are pretty.

    1. I’d heard about their scent, but it wasn’t until a vacant lot across from my home filled with the flowers that I had a chance to experience it for myself. It’s a light, pretty fragrance that I can’t quite describe. Some people say it reminds them of lilacs, or talcum powder, or geraniums. It’s not heavy or cloying, like an Easter lily.

  2. You really have to wonder why they cut everything down to a nub. How many nests of ground-nesting birds are destroyed is anyone’s guess, and how many young, inefficient flyers are chopped to pieces, is distressing to contemplate. The Rain Lilies were a great find, and I am sure they brought you much pleasure.

    1. I don’t doubt that they know what they’re doing. From what I’ve observed over the years, they mow in the same way that they engage in prescribed burns: rotationally, in sections. This is the first time in five years that I’ve encountered these particular mowed areas where I’ve usually found flowers. I suspect that, just as after a burn, the passage of time will reveal the benefits.

      One of the most interesting sorts of mowing I’ve seen involved one of the the freshwater ponds. A few years ago, when drought dried them up, they actually mowed the pond bottoms as a way of encouraging new growth. It sure did, and the coots and dabbling ducks and such enjoyed their fresh greens.

    1. It was disappointing, but I understand it. What would happen to your garden if you never pruned, divided, or weeded? I rest my case! Disappointment isn’t necessarily the same thing as disagreement with the decisions that are made; the refuge managers know what they’re doing.

      ‘Ethereal’ is a perfect word for these lilies, as well as ‘ephemeral.’ Each flower lasts only a day, give or take, before they begin to fade. On the other hand, while they live, they provide shelter and food for myriad insects — more about that in the next post.

  3. rain lilies! I used to have a handful of pink ones that I hoped, thought I dug up and brought with me out here when I moved out of the city but I think I’ve only seen one or two of them bloom the whole time I’ve been here. I do have a growing clump of small yellow ones I also brought out here that I initially dug up beside the sidewalk next to the elementary school at the end of my city street. and I recently gathered a clump of big white ones that were blooming beside the road my street out here ends at. and now I’m finally getting around to the ones in this post. They are profuse over in the shop yard, little white flowers scattered all over when they bloom. what is it about the rain? you can water rain lilies til the cows come home and they won’t bloom. has to be rain that brings them out.

    1. One of the garden guys on the radio was talking about the differences between rain water and tap water last weekend. I can’t remember everything he said, but I do remember that rain not only provides moisture, it provides extra nitrogen, too.

      You’re right about rain triggering these lilies’ blooms. Somewhere I read that it needs to be a good dousing — enough to really soak the soil. On the other hand, some garden sites say that they need well-drained soil. If water still is puddling 5-6 hours after a hard rain, they won’t do well in that location. When I think about it, that seems to be true. The places where I find them all are drier locations.

  4. Oh, Linda, these are gorgeous … befitting a bride’s bouquet! Somehow, they look too delicate for such use, but gee, they’re lovely. I’m glad you found them and gladder still that you’ve shared them here.

    1. They’d make a beautiful bouquet, but you’d have to look sharp to put it together and use it before they faded away. They only bloom for a short time — usually no more than two or three days — and then they begin to fade. I caught these at just the right time, and I was pleased to see quite a few buds. We’ve had so much rain, they must be very happy, indeed.

  5. Yours are lovely. I used to have purple ones, now that you mention it, and I haven’t seen them lately – wonder where they went…….

    1. Maybe they’re like these lilies: waiting for just the right conditions. I’ve never been able to predict the appearance of these natives. Sometimes we get plenty of rain, but they don’t show up.At those times, it may be that we’ve received too much rain. Apparently they like dried, well-draining soil, and sulk a little when they have to sit around in water. It’s like the Three Bears. They don’t want too little rain, or too much — but when there’s just the right amount, there they are.

  6. We’ll settle for the rain, with or without the lilies, thank you very much. I fear the realities of climate change have come home to roost.

    1. I’d be more than happy to send you some of our rain. I did notice that the latest release of the drought monitor map for Texas is looking better than it has for some time. There still are abnormally dry conditions west of you, but we’re going into the summer stretch will full lakes down here, and everyone is more than happy to see it.

    1. Actually, it’s not at all a shame about the mowing — it’s only a shame that I didn’t get to the refuge before they did it! Mowing there is part of a carefully considered plan; it’s done on a rotating basis, so not every section gets mowed every year. The area where I hoped to find more bluebells and some eryngo hasn’t been mowed since I began visiting the refuge — that’s part of the reason I’d become accustomed to finding flowers in those places. No matter — look at these lilies I found instead!

  7. It’s a real battle in the UK to stop councils mowing every patch of grassland they can. It destroys insect habitats and the nectar producing flowers they need. Affects ground nesting birds, and much rodent life. Totally unnecessary most of the time.

    1. Of course, this had nothing to do with that kind of mowing. My disappointment at not finding particular flowers isn’t at all a criticism of the refuge staff. It is, after all, a wildlife refuge, where all of the tools useful for developing and maintaining a healthy habitat — fire, mowing, and grazing among them — are overseen by well-trained professionals. They know what they’re doing, and they know far ahead of time what they’ll be doing in the future.

      On the other hand, there are plenty of people in our suburbs who think like your councils; they consider vast, green lawns maintained with plenty of water and chemicals the ne plus ultra of landscaping. One of my friends hypothesizes that when the younger generations begin making some of the decisions, things may change for the better. We’ll see.

      1. At the moment, my hope is in the younger generation, too. They’re the ones leading the climate actions, the ones demanding real change. I just hope they don’t go the way of so many of my generation – loud activists when younger, but now regularly checking their shares in their nice houses (yes, I know that’s incredibly sweeping, but it’s so rare to find anyone of my age who is still angry about these things!).

    1. They are lovely, and their unpredictability adds to their charm. Garden rain lilies of various species are just as pretty, but their blooms can be timed. I really enjoy the surprise of finding these after a good rain — but they don’t pop up after every rain, or in the same places. I’ve never seen as many at the refuge as I did this time; I almost couldn’t believe it.

  8. We have a tropical storm scheduled in a few days. This morning, six Rain Lilies showed up in the back yard. Probably not related, but I have an active imagination.

    Superb photographs and I’m pretty sure I could detect a slight lilac fragrance wafting from my monitor.

    As you pointed out in some of your responses, the management plans of our national refuges are based upon sound scientific principles. They don’t just go out willy-nilly and chop up and burn everything in sight. Pre-mowing/-burning surveys try to locate and identify sensitive areas (e.g., endangered plants or nesting birds).

    In several weeks, these areas typically are beginning to flourish with new growth.

    Thank you for sharing your Lilies!

    1. Well. Over-active imagination or not, your rain lilies may be akin to our barometer bush in their ability to predict weather. Of course, I was raised with grandparents who regularly consulted the rain ravens, so I’m given to that sort of thing.

      A few years ago, I visited Brazoria on about a twice-weekly basis after a prescribed burn took place. I walked the burned prairie and took photos, documenting the changes in my other blog. It was fascinating to see how quickly the land began to restore itself. Eventually, I went through a fire training course, and learned first-hand how wrong people are who think the crews just roll onto the prairie and light a match.

      The last two times I was at Brazoria, one of the staff was out doing transects. Those guys always are working, and analyzing, and watching. I wish more of our tax dollars went to them.

    1. I’ll bet if Georgia O’Keeffe had seen these lilies, she would have painted them. Unfortunately, they don’t make it to the part of Texas where she lived, but it’s still fun to think about.

      Oddly enough, I was looking for information on alligator coloration after finding a really unusual one at the refuge. I discovered that there are both albino and leucistic gators. There aren’t many, and those that have survived are in controlled environments — apparently the albinos are given to sunburn, and can’t survive in the wild.

  9. Truly love those rain lilies and the vertical lines of the grouping. I tend to like exactly that kind of picture…it sings!! Worth the heat I’d say!! Stay strong.

    1. When these lilies are too scattered, it’s hard to get a photo of a group; when there are a lot of them, it seems just as hard to me. This little clump,with the flowers so close together, was perfect. It helped that the flowers were fresh. Usually I don’t care if flowers are ‘perfect,’ but with these, it increases the appeal when they’re undamaged. I suppose it’s because their lines are so simple to start with.

      By the time I found the cluster, the skies had cleared and it was nearly noon. Never mind composition — it took me a while to figure out the right settings to capture that pure white!

      1. With white birds I generally meter off the birds so that the feathers aren’t blown out and detail is preserved. But,I go with daylight defaults on color temperature and warm or cool it later if needed. Do you adjust the whites temperature at capture or just focus on the white part of the image for the detail? You did get great white color temp on this one, especially against those dark and light greens.

        1. Here, I focused on the flowers. I just now checked the settings: f/16 and 1/640 for the first and f/10 1/400 for the second. I’ve found that in really bright, harsh sunlight increasing the shutter speed seems to help. I don’t know if that’s an ‘approved’ technique or not. Believe me, there’s a whole lot of fooling around that goes on out there!

          1. Well the scheme of a small aperture for less light and a fast shutter speed for less time for light to get in makes total sense to me. Yeah, a lot of fooling around…absolutely and we have to experiment. Now if I can just remembered what I did when it works out!! It is a great process to capture the idea in your mind if you can using settings. It is a great skill and a great time saver from after processing I think.

  10. They’re gorgeous flowers Linda and I love the long stems! The white-and-pink bud is really pretty. I think there’s still a slight hint of pink on the underside of some of the mature flowers’ petals.

    1. You’re very perceptive. Some do keep that hint-of-pink on the undersides. Also, as they age, the flowers darken, and some can turn a very deep pink. I’ve found a very few that have almost maroon sheaths; the contrast can be striking.

    1. Or raising their petals in praise for the rain that’s already come. Since they never emerge until after a good, soaking rain, their above-ground life is pure celebration: at least, until the insects show up to nibble their petals!

  11. The winter here in Australia provides respite from mowers, blowers, trimmers and edgers. I don’t mind the sound of sweeping, or raking but gardening has been taken over by noisy machinery.
    What do people find so bad about autumn leaves, or grass growing softening the concrete edge of the footpath?
    Let things grow and accept that nature isn’t meant to be tidy or shorn.
    Those lovely lilies gladden my hart.

    1. Sadly, I once knew a co-worker who made his daughters go out with scissors and clippers to trim the grass along the sidewalk and curb edges. He clearly was an obsessive-compulsive, and he did his best to impose his own inclinations on everyone around him. As for the machinery, the blowers are the worst. The best I can say is that most of the yard crews here use blowers powerful enough to make short work of the task. It used to take them an hour to do the area around my home. Now, they can finish in five minutes, which is all to the good.

      These lilies gladden a few other creatures, too. I managed a photo of them for another post.

    1. Everybody got something, as someone surely said! We have rain lilies, while you have lilacs, spirea, and peonies. At least the rain lilies have a fragrance that we can imagine as ‘lilac’ — it doesn’t quite make up for the absence of the lilacs themselves, but we make do.

      1. Oh, that’s certainly true, lots of great stuff in the north, too. The forsythia and lilacs love this climate, and can take care of themselves, you see them blooming in what used to be old farmyards, where no one has tended them for decades.

    1. A few flowers with extraordinarily long stems had bent over, making the comparison to trumpets even more appropriate. I’ve always considered the appearance of these flowers a great event. A few times there have been phone conversations that went like this: (Me): “I’m looking right at rain lilies at the ferry landing in Galveston!” (Friend): “Great. How long’s the wait to get on the ferry?”

    1. That’s part of the conflict a lot of us deal with when it comes to nature. Sometimes what we know is right doesn’t ‘feel’ right — the trick is to move past sentimentality and see the importance of good land stewardship for the long term. Of course, there is that neighbor of yours at the lake. That’s a different issue entirely!

  12. Love these photos, Linda. I used to have a few rain lilies, but the shade did them in. I guess with the damage to my trees from the February storm, I’ll be able to grow more in the coming years. They are lovely and always a surprise, but really, they shouldn’t be!

    Ugh, mowers.

    1. Just like people, there are good mowers and bad mowers. After all, what would your garden look like if you let it go for a year or two,without any staking, dividing, pulling, or weed-whacking? Exactly!

      I’ve seen rain-lilies in gardens, but these native species are such a different pleasure. Part of it’s their utter unpredictability. They’re such a “now you don’t see them, now you do!” sort of plant.

  13. It’s disappointing to see flowers mown down. Let’s hope they had chance to set seed first. But I’m glad you found such a treat to compensate.

    1. I’m almost sorry I even mentioned the mowing. My disappointment at not finding certain flowers wasn’t meant to be a criticism of the management practices at the refuge; in the larger scheme of things, my feelings are irrelevant.

      Our refuges are staffed by professionals who know what they’re doing: botanists, entymologists, land managers of every sort. The refuges were established for the sake of the waterfowl and other creatures who live there; we’re only visitors. Of course there are educational and recreational opportunities in such places, and the staff also provides good roads, interpretive signs, and basic facilities such as boardwalks and restrooms, but the needs of the land and its creatures comes first.
      Like prescribed burns, mowing is a valid management tool — and quite different from the indiscriminate mowing that drives city and suburban dwellers crazy.

      All of this has made me curious about how refuge managers make their decisions about mowing. I think a little research is required!

      1. Here, I have noticed that around the bases of trees are being sprayed with weedkiller, presumably by a government appointed contractor. It seems such a strange thing to do, but presumably they have researched the likely effects on the trees first.

        1. I had to chuckle. Maybe they have, and maybe they haven’t. Here, it would be hard to say.

          Since replying to your comment, I’ve had a lovely conversation with Jennifer Sanchez, who works with our Fish & Wildlife Service and who’s project leader for these refuges. We talked a good bit about the different kinds of mowing that are done, and how the ‘scheduling’ takes place. Even better, she’s going to put me in contact with the refuge managers and let them know the kind of information I’m interested in. There’s nothing like a new project — I’m looking forward to it.

    1. There are insects that seem drawn to that light, too. I have photos of a few visitors to share — there’s a lot going on among those lilies!

    1. Sometimes, the sheath that wraps around the stem is a wonderful dark red: almost maroon. We have another rain lily species that’s almost identical to this one, so it may be that the more vibrant color belongs to that other species. One day I may figure it out. No matter: this lovely, delicate pink is quite satisfying.

  14. What a delightful surprise that must have been. While you mention the mowing being understandable it is still a disappointment. I had the same experience, without rain lilies, Sunday when I visited Moosehorn Pond and found that the town had mowed the road edges where I had hoped to find dragonflies. I am not sure why they mowed as there is nothing the grasses interfere with but there it wasn’t. Frogs also hide in the grass so that shelter was gone.
    Those flowers are so beautiful that a large number must be an amazing sight.

    1. I had a short conversation with someone responsible for the refuge complex yesterday, and learned some things about the different purposes of mowing there. One thing she mentioned about roadside mowing was safety — not only of humans, but of the birds and other creatures who lurk in those grasses. Allowing vegetation to grow right up to the edge of the road often means birds, particularly, will wander onto the roads and be exposed to traffic or increased predation. That probably had nothing to do with the reasoning of your town, but it helps to explain what I saw at the refuge. Any frogs or birdies displaced there have plenty of other places to live — even if it makes them more difficult for people to spot.

      Oddly, the mowing may have encouraged the rain lilies. They prefer open areas with plenty of sunshine to coax them out after rains, and in fact they were spread alongside the roads — precisely where the mowing had taken place. Oh, snap!

      1. Sounds like you owe your visit with the lilies to the mowers. Snap indeed. I don’t think anything specific benefitted from the pond road mowing. Maybe the tall grasses provided a bit of fencing to guide folks from driving into the water but the town may feel the mowing does that by making the water more visible. I’ll still visit the pond because “We’ll always have the frogs”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.