The Rain Lilies’ Country Cousins

On impulse, I decided to forgo a return to Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries to check on developments in the small patch of rain lilies I’d found there on April 29. Instead, I traveled to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, where rain lilies also appear from time to time.

I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing our native rain lily species from one another, but these Brazoria blooms seemed to be the same Cooperia drummondii I’d found in Galveston. Their long floral tubes and the preference of the so-called Prairie Lily (Cooperia pedunculata) for more open spaces certainly suggests that, and the USDA map doesn’t show C. pedunculata in Brazoria County.

Regardless of the species, there was no questioning the source of the heady fragrance that hung above the flowers. In Galveston, strong winds had blown away the scent; here, a perfectly still morning allowed it to linger.

A special treat was finding this native thistle (Cirsium spp.) blooming next to the lilies. I tend to think of thistles as plants capable of thriving in dry conditions, so this one’s juxtaposition with floral evidence of rain made me smile.

Comments always are welcome.

35 thoughts on “The Rain Lilies’ Country Cousins

    1. Are yours attractive to pollinators? I often see small bees and flies around these natives, as well as things like katydids and beetles that munch on their petals.

  1. I can only imagine what a multi-sensory experience that was for you. Fragrance, visual beauty, stillness. OK, no tasting or touching, but close! Gorgeous photo — again!

    1. I had planned to head straight back to Galveston for a second look, but I’ve learned to pay attention to impulses that say, “Change those plans!” It certainly was a worthwhile decision this time — and a good reminder that taking the time to smell the rain lilies is as good as stopping to smell the roses.

  2. I also noticed a scent from the rain lilies in Austin a few days ago. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Whether the difference is due to me or the rain lilies or a combination remains a mystery. As for impulses, they also seem to provide mixed results. Usually there’s no way to know if the original plan would have turned out better than, or at least as good as, the plan we switched to. What you found in the alternate location pleased you. On Facebook a couple of days ago I saw a current photograph of a coreopsis colony in the Galveston cemetery complex, so there’s probably still time for you to swing by there for those flowers, if no longer for the ephemeral rain lilies.

    1. I looked over the coreopsis while I was in Galveston, but to be honest, I have so many photos of those flowers in that place that I didn’t feel much inclination to stay. While there were some nice, thick patches in various places, nothing seemed to me to rival the past years. For fields of yellow flowers, the developing stands farther down the island are more impressive — or at least they will be as the bloom increases. Besides, if I’d returned to the cemetery, I would have missed out on the Hamby Nature Trail and the dunes. My schedule’s such that for most of May I’ll only have weekends to go exploring, so I’ll wait until next year to see if the cemeteries are more impressive.

    1. It’s a scent that can be both light and pervasive: like wisteria, maybe. It’s not quite as spicy as bridalwreath spirea, and not as heavy as lilac, but it certainly can tempt me to just stand around and sniff! We have so many native thistle varieties; I think this one is the Texas thistle, and pollinators love them. A friend told me her horse adores their flowers. When she goes riding, if the thistles are around, the horse will neatly nip off every bloom.

    1. It’s amazing how soft those thistle flowers can be. Even the most prickly — that carries the scientific name Cirsium horridulum — is horrid because of its spiny leaves and stem rather than the flowers. I wish I could bottle the rainlily scent for you, too. Of course, I’ve been trying to find a lilac scent that really smells like the flowers for years, and so far I haven’t done it. It seems there are some things a laboratory just can’t duplicate.

  3. Rain lilies are so breathtakingly beautiful! I have to say though, that the thistle, with its backup flowers is pretty special, too! Rain brings all sorts of good things!

    1. Seeing the rain lilies and the thistle together reminded me of the time I found rain lilies blooming around prickly pear cacti outside of Fredericksburg. It seemed incongruous then, too! In a way, it’s a sign of changing seasons — summer’s on the way, for sure. Now, if only we can get more rain — all across the state. (But not too much!)

  4. The rain lilies are pretty, but the thistle looks lovely against the white flowers in the background. And I say that despite the similarity to spotted knapweed!
    I just came back from a visit to the SF bay area, and visited the SF Botanical Garden. The “fragrance garden” there didn’t have roses or lilies – the memorable fragrance was from rosemary leaves!

    1. I remembered the knapweed: at least, that it’s invasive. When I looked it up, I was surprised to see that it’s in the same genus as my favorite American basketflower (Centaurea). That makes sense in another way, since many people confuse the basketflower with a thistle.

      It certainly makes sense for a fragrance garden to include rosemary. All it took was your mention of it for the scent to come back to me. It’s one of my favorite cooking herbs, as well as being a very pretty plant.

    1. Thank you, Derrick. I was pleased to find some of these beauties in a more natural setting. Sometimes, one or two will pop up “in the middle of nowhere,” and I always smile when I see them.

    1. It’s so interesting that it takes a gathering of flowers for me to detect the scent. If there are only a few, even sticking my nose down into the bloom doesn’t provide any fragrance at all. The best time to ‘catch the scent’ is on a still, slightly humid morning, when it seems to hang nearer the ground.

    1. We have some of the prettiest thistles in the world, and many of them are native. I suppose there aren’t many people who would long for a thistle garden, but they provide shelter, food, nesting material, and such for a variety of creatures. Beauty and usefulness make a fine pairing!

    1. The can turn somewhat pink as they age, and sometimes they begin to look a little ratty before that — especially if the beetles, katydid nymphs, and such begin munching on them. But when they’re fresh, they are one of the purest floral whites I’ve seen, and they’re just lovely.

  5. We need smelloweb (remember smell-o-vision back in the day?) so we can appreciate the scent of the rain lilies. Not only are they beautiful but your mention of their delightful fragrance makes them even more inviting. That’s a lovely thistle as well.

    1. I do remember the concept of smell-o-vision. Did it ever actually exist? I always thought it was just a joke. In any event, I’m not sure smell-o-web could do the trick, either. Even my long search for a perfume that accurately captures the scent of lilacs has been unsuccessful; the labs just can’t reproduce what nature produces.

      I’m quite taken with the flowers of our various thistles. I know they can be an annoyance, but the bees and butterflies certainly love them.

      1. I think there were a few instances of scents being introduced in movie theaters.

        Yankee Candle produced candles that were fairly resemblant of the scents they represented.

  6. You and Steve are merging in interesting ways, like the various species that all open on the same day, or how migratory birds seem to know at the same hour, ‘time to move…’

    My wordpress notifications are via email, and his arrive with image intact, and yours only show texts. I opened his, admired the images, then after leaving the note about the cactus, I then moved to your next one – and just sort of stared — had I already opened this? and then I thought, Steve! – and toggled between the two pages… How nice to get a double dose!

    1. There’s a WordPress setting that allows a choice between full text and summary for feeds. I’d bet (but don’t know) that’s the reason why there’s a difference in the way people’s emails arrive. I have mine set to summary; long, long ago it was suggested as the best way to do it, but I don’t remember the reason. That was more than a decade ago, before the ubiquity of mobile devices and such, so maybe full text is better now. I’ll put it on my list of ‘things to explore some day.’

      It’s fascinating when the same plants show up for both Steve and I. At one time, I felt a little intimidated by the professionalism of his photos, and sometimes wouldn’t post my images of the same plants. I got over that. Now, I just take my photos, and enjoy comparing our different approaches. As someone once said in the intro to her blog, “Artists are different” — and that’s true. They’re different from ‘the thundering herd,’ but also from one another.

      1. Aye, yes, we are all deliciously different in subtle and profound ways, and many times it’s a comfort the way we align without knowing, as if tuned into the same invisible currents.

        For a creative person, it’s hard to find time to put everything on pause and go back and peruse,tweak settings. I consider going back to that first ‘set up’ and all of those options, widgets, etc – and wonder if I can still find my way through the maze and back out again — while work in progress on the next series is pending and waiting my attention. It’s always a blessing to be – as Eudora Welty stated, – ‘“But how much better, in any case, to wonder than not to wonder, to dance with astonishment and go spinning in praise, than not to know enough to dance or praise at all; to be blessed with more imagination than you might know at the given moment what to do with than to be cursed with too little to give you — and other people — any trouble.”

        we are blessed…

  7. The “sudden” emergence of Rain Lilies and their fleeting existence makes them really special when I find them. To have the lavender thistle in proximity to the clean white lilies is a very nice bonus!

    Pollinators must have been rubbing their forelegs together in anticipation of a sweet nectar-fest!

    More superb photographs to whet my appetite and motivate me to explore!

    1. To be honest, I wouldn’t think your appetite to explore would need whetting; you and Gini are terrific at getting out and about and making good use of your time. I will admit that I really felt the heat today for the first time, and went through my annual “was it this bad 40 years ago?” ponderings. Of course it wasn’t — because it was forty years ago, I was 35, and I still was thinking “the hotter, the better.” Now, my mantra is “pace yourself!” It’s the best way to outlive the rain lilies!

  8. Thistles almost always make me smile, as did learning this one made you smile. There’s just something about them. Not sure if it’s the color, or how different the flower is, or all those little spikes and needles telling you to keep your distance. And I enjoyed learning about the lilies. Reading your posts always educate me and remind me of how much more there is to learn about the various species around me, and I love that, so thanks!

    1. One of the reasons I love blogging as I do is because of the opportunities for learning it presents. Of course I learn from others, but I also enjoy becoming intrigued by ‘something’ and having a good excuse to delve into the subject: not only flowers and plants, but history, art, music. And there’s always something new. Last weekend, I found two species I’d never heard of, let alone seen; it’s always a treat to have that kind of experience.

      It’s funny that I don’t remember thistles from my midwestern years. I suspect it might be that people viewed them in the same way they viewed dandelions, and got rid of them as fast as they could. Too bad! They’re certainly a bonanza for the various insects who pollinate and feed on them.

    1. They might surprise you, if you get even a dash of rain. I found a whole field of rain lilies on the drought-stricken Willow City loop outside Fredericksburg last weekend. They were scattered, but there they were. On the other hand, I found roadsides covered with them down by Hondo — more than I’ve ever seen. It was wonderful — but too windy to catch their scent.

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