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!

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.