Bloody Red

With scary Halloween just around the corner, I don’t want to alarm readers with the Bloody Red title.  Rest assured, it doesn’t indicate gory events ahead, but instead, something bright and cheery–and bloody red.

Oxblood lilies, Rhodophiala bifida, are naturalized autumn bulb beauties scattered throughout Central Texas. The plants originated from Argentina and Uruguay and were introduced to Texas by German immigrant and botanist, Peter Henry Oberwetter, who settled in Texas during the mid-1800s.  He collected plants, gardened, and bequeathed following Texas gardeners a legacy of brilliance.  Scott Ogden, in his book Garden Bulbs for the South, writes that Oberwetter made both Oxblood lilies and the Texas native Rain lilies, Cooperia pedunculata, available for the budding nursery industry.

The first fall rains which typically occur in late August and September–those soakers tasked with breaking the summer heat and drought–give permission for Oxblood’s fleshy stems to stretch up and out from the buried-in-the-soil bulbs, seemingly overnight.  In the next days buds appear, with gorgeous crimson flowers to follow.

My Oxbloods were a little late this year owing to our hellish hot and dry September, but they’ve arrived with the dribbles of October rain.  Pops of scarlet look at me! flowers are peeking out from underneath and up alongside, other plants.

The little crew in the above photo will need transplanting to another spot, or perhaps, to several spots, because they’re currently snuggled underneath a shrub that will become denser with time.  The Oxbloods will eventually be overgrown and disappear–and I don’t want that, do I?

I’ll mark the spot with a stake so that next spring I remember to dig up the bulbs and transplant them to a new place in the garden.  After the Oxblood flowers fade, green, grassy foliage replaces the blooms and stalks, and that foliage remains evergreen for winter.  At some point in spring (that I never notice until too late) the foliage disappears.  If I don’t mark the spot in the next months, by spring the foliage will have vanished and I won’t recall exactly where the bulbs are located.  Been there, done that.

Why not dig up the bulbs now?  An Oxblood truism is that it’s best not to transfer bulbs until the foliage has faded so that the plant completes its natural cycle.  That said, I have been guilty of moving Oxblood bulbs just after they bloomed.  The Oxblood world did not come to a crashing end, though I can’t remember if blooms happened the following fall.  My guess?  Probably there were no blooms until the following year. Plants whose life cycles are disrupted, sulk, and then get their revenge by refusing to bloom.

 Because I am able and I know it’s the right thing to do, I’ll be a fastidious, rule-following gardener, staking precisely and transplant appropriately.

The bloom period of individual Oxbloods isn’t long–just a few days each–but with a number of these bulbs planted throughout my gardens, the blooming is staggered over several weeks, providing a lovely splash-of-scarlet show and welcomed fall color.

Boasting of a bit of Texas (botanical) history and bloody beautiful Oxbloods, I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.


19 thoughts on “Bloody Red

    • I think ‘naturalized’ doesn’t necessarily include the more remote wild spaces, but instead, cultivated gardens in towns and cities. I’ll bet some can be found in open areas, but you’d have to see them during bloom time–they’re hard to miss!–because the foliage, while attractive, isn’t anything you might notice. They’re really common here in Austin; I see so many pop up in lawns and of course, those get mowed regularly. Then, they pop up again the next year.


  1. I love the rain lilies. The celebration of the soak, the reminder to be grateful for rains that come. I may need to borrow the stake idea as the bulbs I tried to move previously likely didn’t make it.
    I remember as a young child, an odd bush in the backyard that I never much noticed until one day it bloomed. It was so beautiful I picked it for my mom and rushed inside with my gift. Apparently, by doing so, according to her, it would now not bloom again for seven years.
    Except I remember that it was a bleeding heart and those bloom annually…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha–that’s a funny story about the bleeding heart. Moms are great, even, and maybe especially, when they fib! I love rain lilies too, I wish I could grow them, but I’m so socked into shade that they poop out! I enjoy the ones in other gardens and of course, along streets and my bike pathways.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh, Tina – those are wonderful!! I would build on your example and plant those absolutely everywhere! I love them!! Up here, the toad lilies are doing their thing right now, and they make me very happy too.


  3. And the poor things were drowned, yes? My Oxbloods and and Red spider lilies have been quite late this year, but we’re fairly dry. Still, I’m glad they decided to make an appearance.


  4. I love these lilies. I happen to know where a large group of them has bloomed in the past, so it’s clearly time for me to check for them. I found them all over one Arkansas town a couple (three?) years ago, and it was quite a sight. Out in the country, they’re a sure sign of old, abandoned homesteads. I’ve stopped to look at the flowers from time to time, and found everything from broken crockery to vine-covered, distintegrating steps. Reading the landscape can be fun!


    • I’ll bet they were gorgeous! Oxbloods are quite the drama queens, in full blooming mode. Mine have only ever popped up in little groups, but like you, I’ve seen large clusters of them, usually in St. Augustine lawns.

      I’m sure you must find all sorts of interesting things in the older homestead sites. Back in the ’80s, there were avid gardeners/rose lovers who combed the old Texas farm/homesteads for the hardy roses that had been planted and were still going strong. Many of the commercial antique/heirloom roses now available in our local nurseries are from those ‘rose rustlers’ of 30 or so years ago. All kinds of goodies can be found where folks plants themselves!

      Liked by 1 person

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