Just Add Water, and the Earth Stirs

Rain lily bud

As bright Coreopsis and Firewheel began appearing alongside our streets and highways, my thoughts turned to the Broadway cemeteries in Galveston: always a favorite spot for spring flower photography. Favorable conditions sometimes lead to masses of flowers, as they did in 2020.

This year, generally dry conditions and my own late arrival meant the flowers were more scattered, with many Gaillardia already going to seed and the Coreopsis less dramatically dense than in the past. Still, to paraphrase the old saying, if one bloom closes, another opens, and the opening of a significant number of rain lilies (Cooperia drummondii) was an unexpected treat.

Rain lily flowers gradually open in the evening several days after rainfall and remain open a day or two; areas around Galveston received between one and two inches of rain on Tuesday, April 26, so the presence of blooms three days later wasn’t unusual. I found far more buds than flowers, so another visit clearly is in order.  

Finding a pleasing background in an urban cemetery can be challenging. Sometimes, as above, a sidewalk serves the purpose; in the photo below, a brick wall surrounding one of the cemeteries provided contrast for the white flowers.

Being able to position a bloom in front of fading Coreopsis and Gaillardia provided some color, but more than native wildflowers can serve that purpose.

Here, a bouquet of artificial flowers left at a grave frames a rain lily flower and bud: an unexpected but pleasing combination.


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “Just Add Water, and the Earth Stirs

  1. Cemeteries are favourite spots for birders. They are quiet, the birds become accustomed to people, and old cemeteries always have big trees. I’ll have to keep an eye out for wildflowers too.

    1. Our coastal cemeteries are a little short on big trees, although the Broadway cemeteries do have a few nice palm trees. On the other hand, what we lack in trees we make up for in wildflowers: at least, in season. There are some interesting projects designed to transform cemeteries into meadow-like places, especially in England but also in the U.S., and the birds (and insects) will profit from those.

    1. We certainly do have some beauties. What makes our floral wealth even more delightful is its variety. We’re such a large state that what can be seen varies dramatically from east to west and north to south. Depending on the source you choose, we have ten, eleven, or twelve ecoregions, and each has something to offer.

    1. My mother’s African violets taught me the difference between rain water and faucet water. They just wouldn’t thrive. Finally, someone told me to collect rain water for them, to avoid the chlorine and chloramines in our city water. They perked up in about two weeks, and started blooming like crazy. I’ve never explored the composition of natural rain water, but it sure does make a difference.

      1. It’s almost like fertilizer to plants! The rain is dragging down everything in the atmosphere and the plants seem to love it!!

    1. I’d never thought of combining faux flowers and real, but it certainly worked in that instance. It just now occurred to me that I should check the name(s) on the stone, and if I can find the family, offer them a copy of the photo.

        1. Generally, I prefer to keep human elements out of my photos (except for fence and windmills, which I adore), but sometimes even faux flowers can bloom nicely!

  2. Was Lady Bird Johnson responsible for all the beautiful flower fields in your state’s public areas or do they perpetuate themselves?

    1. Lady Bird certainly played an enormous role in publicizing, preserving, and promoting our native plants, but the flowers themselves are called ‘wild’ flowers for a reason. They’ve been here since time immemorial, as the saying goes. I’m currently reading a journal kept by Ferdinand Roemer, a German geologist/naturalist who traveled the state from 1845-1847; his journal’s filled with mentions of many of the same plants I come across.

      On the other hand, there’s a lot of wildflower education that goes on, thanks to the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin, and various groups like the Native Plant Society of Texas. Highway beautification projects that have added to the natural beauty of the state also were promoted by Lady Bird. Every year, the Texas Department of Transportation spreads about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed of various sorts, and mowing policies are designed to allow natural self-seeding to take place.

      1. I wish more states would take a page out of Texas’ beautification projects. I know Republicans made fun out of her back in her day but her beautiful legacy speaks for itself now.

        1. That just isn’t true. The desire to beautify the state always has been distinctly non-partisan. The ‘wildflowers aren’t practical’ folks can be Democrat or Republican. Certain policies have been supported or opposed for a variety of reasons, including cost, but painting one party or another as opposed to beautification isn’t reasonable or accurate. Another woman, Geraldine Watson, was a moving force behind the creation of the Big Thicket as natural area. She certainly had her detractors, including some in the legislature, but from what I’ve read of the history, some of her most ardent supporters came from both sides (all sides?) of the political divide(s).

          1. A better way to say it would be yes, but… sure, Republicans opposed Lady Bird, but they weren’t the only ones. Even today, the divisions aren’t so neat. One of the most dedicated Democrats I know is equally dedicated to her ‘perfect’ lawn, and continually battles her neighbors’ attempts to add native plants to their landscapes!

  3. Oh my. What a fabulous post, Linda. These lilies are absolutely exquisite — delicate but with those strong stems and perfect white blooms. I love your different backgrounds, too. And the title — just the best!

    1. I got quite a kick out of that title. Part of it may be that our generation was one that heard “just add water” as a real selling point for everything from hot chocolate mix to cake mix. The biggest difference with the lilies is that nature doesn’t have to add an egg, too!

      These lilies are beautiful, and their unpredictability is part of their charm. They lurk underground for so long that it’s easy to forget about them — until, suddenly, there they are. I found even more yesterday, which thrilled me to pieces.

  4. First of all, your photos are so beautiful. I don’t know how you resist blowing them all up to frame. Rain lilies are some of my favorites. I rescued a few from a construction site, but they did not grow for me. I grow the more domestic type and it is true that only rain water will make them bloom. Mine get sprinkler water and they will not bloom until nature rains on them. Amazing.

    1. It is amazing how sprinkler water just doesn’t do it for them. Out at Armand Bayou, there are some Zephyranthes species that have been planted, and they act the same way. The gardeners can water them faithfully, but it’s the rain that brings their blooms.

      Thanks for your appreciative words about the photos. I’ve wondered from time to time why I don’t experience any impulse toward printing. Part of it’s that my camera and my skill rarely produce something worth blowing up, and part of it’s expense. And wall space is at a premium around here; something would have to come down to put up a photo. At least for now, sharing online’s good enough.

  5. Cooperia drummondii has gone the way, if not of all flesh, then of disconcertingly many scientific names in recent years. Now rechristened Zephyranthes chlorosolen, it reassuringly remains the same fine little wildflower to photograph, as you’ve amply demonstrated here. The interplay of the basic white with reddish shades provides much to keep a photographer busy, and a viewer of your post attracted. (I was out doing rain lily pictures yesterday morning—thanks, rain this past Monday—and will head out again shortly to document the changes a day makes.)

    1. Disconcerting’s a good word to describe it: especially with these flowers. At the very least, it’s confusing. I chuckled when I found this in the page devoted to them by the Arkansas Native Plant Society: “Evening rain-lily (Cooperia drummondii, also known variously by some athorities as Cooperia chlorosolen or Zephyranthes chlorosolen) of the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) formerly of the Lily (Liliaceae) family…”

      Eason uses Z. chlorosolen while the Wildflower Center page still is using C. drummondii.
      That’s the name I learned, so I decided to stick with it. Besides, I’m fond of Drummond and it pleases me to keep using his name. It may not be scientific, but at least it’s still an acceptable synonym.

      I hope you found more yesterday. I did, down at the Brazoria refuge. They seemed to be fresher, and the fragrance was delicious.

      1. A year or two back I spoke with the guy at the Wildflower Center who maintains their native plant database. He said their policy is to wait until the USDA changes the scientific name of a species and then follow suit. He was aware of the many changes that botanists have made that the USDA hasn’t yet incorporated.

        I haven’t always been able to distinguish Cooperia drummondii from Cooperia pedunculata. I’ve fallen back on using Marshall Enquist’s criteria (p. 12) that Cooperia pedunculata has a noticeably shorter floral tube and blooms primarily in the spring. That’s why I think the rain lilies that came up in Austin this week are Cooperia pedunculata, a.k.a. Zephyranthes drummondii. (Notice how the drummondii epithet switched to a different species in the new nomenclature rather than just being given a new genus).

        And yes, I did go back to the same group of rain lilies yesterday, with the added benefit of raindrops on them.

        1. Eason mentions the floral tube as a distinguishing feature, too. While I was trying to sort out what I found at the Brazoria refuge this weekend, I got confused all over again, but finally decided that I’d found a second batch of C. drummondii. The USDA doesn’t show C. pedunculata in Brazoria county, so that’s a bit of supportive evidence, though not conclusive. We know how closely plants follow the maps!

    1. Thank you. ‘Ethereal’ certainly is a good description of them. Like so many of our flowers, they’re best seen in the morning, before they begin to fade.

    1. It’s interesting to see how some of them remain pure white, while others have that bit of color. It’s always fun to watch them as they age, too. Some develop a nice blush of pink that overtakes the entire bloom, much as apparently white evening primroses will turn pink with the passage of time.

  6. Wow, again. It’s always an adventure to see what you find in meadows, wetlands, and urban cemeteries. In the early 19th Century, there was a garden cemetery movement. Oak Hill in Washington, Mt. Auburn in Boston and grove Street in New Haven were all part of it. It would be nice if there was a strong revival of the idea.

    1. There’s an organization/movement in England that’s a continuation of that idea. It’s called Caring for God’s Acre, and it’s doing wonderful work. I was introduced to it when I came across this video, which is utterly charming. Who knows? Maybe the ‘residents’ of the place are pleased to see the changes!

      I was thinking of you last week; you surely must be busy as can be now that the gardening season has begun in earnest. I had my first handful of dewberries off the vine when I was out yesterday, so it won’t be long until local produce is available again.

      1. This is interesting–I did not know about this movement, but I’d heard of various meadows where people could be buried in the US. I have indeed been busy–and lazy about blogging. I hope to post soon, and I’m definitely looking forward to fresh berries and vegetables. I hope your farm markets are open soon!

    1. A perfect description, Eliza. I’d only add ‘unpredictable.’ They’re quite capable of lurking underground for months or years until conditions suit them, but when they emerge, there’s no missing them.

  7. I have never seen rain lilies before – they are strikingly beautiful, with such purity. From the name, I should not expect to ever see them in my rather parched corner but I notice that the RHS does have a nursery listed for them. (On the wetter side of the country!) I love your title!

    1. ‘Rain lily’ is a somewhat misleading common name. They can lie fallow through substantial periods of drought; they’re known for their tendency to flower after rain, rather than for any need for consistent rain.

      I suspect the nursery you mentioned is offering different Zephyranthus species. There are several South American species that are grown here, but I’m not sure there’s any way to propagate this native except by collecting seed when they bloom. It seems to me that their unpredictability would make them impossible to cultivate commercially.

    1. I was rather pleased with the title myself, Derrick; I knew some would catch the reference to that “just add water” miracle touted with various 1950s and 1960s food products! As for the photos, they profit considerably by the beauty of the subject.

  8. These rain lilies are so beautiful! I’m a bit surprised you’re so dry there. Perhaps you’ve inadvertently sent all your moisture to us?? The weather-casters blame La Nina or some such for how wet we’ve been. All I know is, it just keeps training like box cars over our area, and we really don’t need anymore any time soon. May we please send it back to Texas??

    1. Any rain you can spare would be more than welcome, Debbie! Our part of the state isn’t so desperately dry as the western half, but we’re still behind on rainfall. Clearly, these lilies were more than a little happy to feel that moisture seeping down to them, and they always repay the favor with these beautiful blooms. You have so many spring flowers that I really miss, and these help to fill that hole in my still-sort-of-midwestern heart.

    1. If these have any tint at all, it tends to be pink. They’ll sometimes turn more pink as they age, and occasionally there’s are pink-to-maroon highlights on the buds. Being a white flower lover myself, these obviously are among my favorites. Besides, that trumpet-like shape is about the most tulip-like that we have.

    1. I like that one, too; the background actually is a red brick retaining wall. It’s camera magic! I wasn’t sure I could get the purity of the bright white flowers without blowing out the highlights, but I was satisfied.

  9. Rain lilies are a treat. So are your pictures of them. We have a nice cemetery here in Amherst but unlike those you visit, ours, Wildwood, is more a woodland one and a favorite spot for birders.

    1. Wildwood is beautiful, and well-named.There are some old cemeteries in Houston that are more wooded, and in more rural areas they’re quite common. I know a couple that are filled with some of the most beautiful large oaks you’d ever want to see. I suspect birders do visit them, but the bird species probably are different. Galveston cemeteries are filled with grackels, though, and they certainly provide plenty of amusement.

    1. This is the season when a lot of us become overwhelmed by the numbers and variety of our flowers. Even when spring is over, the summer — and then autumn — flowers just keep coming. It’s pleasing to see so many people dedicating themselves to promoting them, too. Less formal lawn and more native plant landscaping certainly appeals to me.

    1. Maybe, but maybe not. I’m not nearly as skilled when it comes to identifying trees! At least I’m finally learning to photograph leaves and stems as well as flowers; more often than I ever imagined, those are the keys to accurate identification. I do love buds of all sorts, though — even if I can’t identify them.

    1. They certainly are more of a summer than an early spring flower, but summer shows up here long before June. Sunflowers, penstemon, sages of various sorts, and coneflowers are blooming everywhere, and plenty of Gaillardia seed heads are around.

      I’ve seen occasional Gaillardia in every month of the year, but this year they really began to bloom in April; they’ll peak in May and June, and then begin to decline. They’re such a beautiful flower, and combine so nicely with others.

  10. A bit of Spring dampness and the magic happens.

    What a lovely collection of blooms. The cemetery is likely not on the list of those seeking wildflowers and you’ve proven that to be a grave error.

    Sorry for the late comments. Old folks’ maladies paying a visit the past couple of weeks.

    1. here’s never any ‘late’ around here. I leave my comment sections open all the time, just for the convenience of the forgetful, the overly-busy, the thoughtful, and the searchers on Google who land here almost by accident — not to mention those afflicted by maladies. I hope all’s well. At least your comments are proof that, as my grandma would say, you’re still upright and mobile!

      Not only that, you’re still making puns. Grave errors, indeed!

  11. Finding more buds than flowers can be nice when you have time to return to alocation. It gives so much to look forward to. And I like how you know when to go looking for these based on the weather and when it rained.

    1. Did you ever see the musical or film, The Music Man? In the opening song, one of the lead characters, a salesman, makes the point that “you gotta know the territory.” Over the years — five or more now — I’ve learned that just wandering around and looking is great, but sometimes a little knowledge of what the territory has held in the past can be predictive. It’s not always true, of course, and the rain lily can disappear as easily as it arrives, but it’s still good to have a starting place.

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