Life’s Force

Recent rains, sufficient to leave roadway puddles and the occasional flowing ditch, have enouraged new plant growth everywhere. Crepe myrtles are reblooming, shrubs are leafing out as though it were April, and the voice of the lawnmower is heard in the land.

From our schoolyard lawns to the highway medians of Galveston, one of the most prolific bloomers just now is a native rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen). Aptly described by an online acquaintance as “all those little white flowers that come out of nowhere right after it rains,” they might also be described as “those little white flowers that bloom anywhere they darned well please.”

This small group had pushed its way through the hard clay of a construction site in what I imagined to be a natural call-and-response. The rain called, the flowers responded, and everyone who’s noticed is exclaiming in delight at their sudden appearance.  

 

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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.

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Floral Filigree

Not rain but dew gave this fading neighborhood rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) its unusual appearance.

I’ve often shown the brilliant white petals and sepals of these flowers in full bloom. While both can be tinged with pink, and while it isn’t unusual for the flowers to become a darker pink as they fade, in this instance the color suffused the entire flower in a way that seemed unusual.

Even more remarkably, the transparency created by the dewdrops and the patterns that emerged because of them reminded me of the finely-drawn gold filigree work that typifies much West African jewelry.

They also reminded me of this favorite poem from W.S. Merwin, who understood that not all jewels can be found in a shop.

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age
                                 “Dew Light” ~ W.S. Merwin

 

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Life Among the Rain Lilies

A centerpiece for nature’s table

Discovering one charming group of rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was immensely satisfying, but nature had another surprise in store: a second bouquet so beautifully arranged it might have been created by a professional florist.

After admiring the second clump of flowers, I turned my attention to  individual lilies scattered along the roadside, and found them teeming with life.  Emerging rain lily buds, elegant as the flowers themselves, played host to a number of tiny grasshopper nymphs who hugged the slender stems.

Among the blooms,  a dozen or more Lesser Meadow Katydid nymphs (genus Conocephalus ) roamed and nibbled.

Tempted by pollen and nectar, hoverflies joined the party.

Some insects secreted themselves within the flowers’ depths, closing the door behind them. Here, a spider or caterpillar might have been at work. Despite my curiosity, I chose to imagine a ‘Do Not Disturb” sign and moved on.

One camera-shy crab spider retreated beneath the petals so quickly I missed a clear image, but she’d found a beautiful place to await her prey. Rather than spinning a web, many of these spiders engage in lurking: snatching up unwary visitors seeking nectar or seeds.

Even a few minutes of roadside observation confirms an important truth: as much as we enjoy decorating our homes with flowers, innumerable creatures consider the flowers themselves to be their homes: places of shelter and sustenance. We’re lucky they’re willing to invite us in.

 

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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.

 

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