After a good spring rain in Texas, it’s always a treat to see one particular result: the emergence of rain lilies. It’s almost as if a delightful fairy garden has popped up overnight. While the rains are typically refreshing by themselves, the rain lilies add their own extra bit of magic on top.
The lilies bloom a couple of days after a rain, with their long, slender, singular stems stretching up 8 inches or so, capped by a white flower. A rain lily looks like one of those long royal trumpets, announcing a fanfare of spring.
Many wildflowers bloom with the season, but rain lilies are more free-spirited; they follow a rain instead of a schedule. That ephemeral nature adds to their allure. After a couple of days, they’re gone again.
Cynthia Mueller, a master gardener and retired educator in College Station, counts herself a fan of the rain lily.
“It’s always a nice surprise after a rain to see the lilies sticking up,” she says. “It’s a favorite of mine to find growing sometimes just by the side of the road.”
Rain lily is a term that applies to approximately 70 species of plants that belong in three different genuses: Zephyranthes, Habranthus and Cooperia.
Rain lilies native to Texas are usually white, blending to pink or yellow. Two notable Texas species are the Hill Country rain lily, Cooperia pedunculata, and the evening rain lily, Cooperia drummondii. These species bloom in spring and summer, growing from bulbs. They tend to have a main spring blooming season triggered by rains, followed by sporadic rain-triggered blooms over the rest of the growing season.
When the single, unbranched stem grows sufficiently tall — 5 to 9 inches — after a rain, the bud opens overnight, producing a small white flower 2 inches across. The flowers last only a day or two.
“They notice real rain. It can’t just be water from a hose,” Mueller says, adding that the flowers are pollinated by nighttime flying insects such as the sphinx moth.
Rain lilies can be found in meadows, lawns and woodland edges. They often occur in groups — sometimes dozens of individuals can be found blooming together in small patches.
Evening Rain lily Courtesy Sally and Andy Wasowski | LBJ Wildflower center; Hill Country Rain Lyly courtesy Joseph a marcus | LBJ wildlfower center
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