Always a Surprise

Every September, I’m surprised–and unsurprised–at the overnight emergence of the clusters of Oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, in my gardens.

The September surprise begins with the fleshy stems, which push through newly rained upon soil and which I observe if I’m actually looking for them.  But it’s usually the riot of red atop those stems that catches my attention.  And how could I miss that scream of scarlet? 

These shockingly crimson blooms emerge at the end of our long summers and after the first fall rains.  Not native to Texas, these beauties originated in various parts of South America.  Oxbloods were brought to Texas by an early Texas botanist, Peter Oberwetter and have naturalized throughout much of the state, gracing lawns, natural areas, and gardens–including my own.  The blooms sit only about 12 inches from the ground and last a week or so.  Often, though not this year, my various groups pop up and bloom at different times, extending the bloom period to as much as a month.  This year, they’ve all burst open at once.  Once the blooms are done, slender, striped foliage emerges and remains evergreen throughout winter, disappearing sometime in late spring.  The Oxblood lily bulbs hunker down for the hot summer.  Smart bulbs! 

The strappy leaves you see accompanying the blooms in the photos belong to another plant, the native Texas craglilyEcheandia texensis, which are revving up their autumn blooming, too. 

As I sat on the ground to get these shots, several metallic sweat bees buzzed around the blooms, but I couldn’t get more than a smear of bee in any of the photos, so I settled for pure flowers.  It’s affirming to see the pollinators active and attracted to these blooms.  A little ways from where I sat, a hummingbird worked a different set of red flowers and I’ll bet that after I left the scene, Ms. Hummer came by for a sip. 

Surprises in the garden really aren’t surprises, are they?  We know the garden is dynamic, we know there’s always something new, something evolving, something different.  We just need to pay attention to the somethings.

For more surprises–or not–check out Anna’s Flutter and Hum and Wednesday’s Vignette!

18 thoughts on “Always a Surprise

  1. I came across an entire lot filled with these in Arkansas a few years ago. I’d searched out a library to use their computer, noticed a real bookmobile parked across the street, and then saw the flowers blooming behind the bookmobile. Now and then I’ll see them down here, but not often. Lucky you to have them close at hand!

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    • Wow–that must have been something! Yes, I have a few clusters, but to see a whole field would be a real treat. I’ve seen photos of these and also their blooming companions, Red spider lily, Lycoris radiata, blooming in open spaces and they’re stunning.

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  2. This is the first I’ve heard of Austinite Peter Oberwetter. His German last name would translate directly to Overweather. I see from the plaque that his wife’s family name was Schade, which originally meant ‘damage.’ That seems strange, but then English has family names like Slaughter.


  3. These are lovely pics of the oxblood lilies. I have 2 small clusters of them that I brought from the our old farmstead. I wish I could have dug more but the bulb is very deep. Our front lawn was covered with them by the time I sold the farm house. All those blooms were an accumulation of about 70 years of the lilies propagating. I have not been back. It is too painful for me to drive past but I do have those 2 little clumps that just have not multiplied very much even after about 22 years.


    • I’ll bet that farmstead was something to witness, with all the red abloom and I can imagine that it would be difficult to go by there, if you have good memories and are sad that you’re not living there anymore. Like your Oxbloods, mine don’t spread much, but I’m still very happy to have what I have!

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