There are several ways to know that summer is almost over, and fall is almost here. One is high school football season. My dad was the band director at Troup when I was born, and he always said it was guaranteed to rain (and mess up the band uniforms) by the second or third football game. Another indicator is the appearance of “fall blooming” bulbs. They work on a wet-dry cycle and bloom with the first drought bursting rain. Among the first to acknowledge the coming change is the oxblood lily.
Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), also known as schoolhouse lilies, have the same growth cycle as my beloved red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata), but generally bloom about a month earlier. Both produce flowers in the late summer or fall on naked stems, grow foliage during the wintertime, and go dormant during the summer.
One of our early German-Texan plantsmen, Peter Heinrich Oberwetter of Comfort and later Austin, purportedly introduced oxblood lilies from Argentina and began to propagate and distribute them around the heart of Texas. To this day, you’ll find more oxblood lilies in the Germanic heritage areas of Central Texas than any other part of the state. A bulb expert from Argentina once told me there were more oxblood lilies in Texas than in Argentina now!
These members of the amaryllis family need winter sunshine, an extended dry period during the summer, and a soaking rain in August or September. They will grow in sand, silt, or clay and will grow in a flower bed, in groundcover, in the lawn, or in a pasture. In Garden Bulbs for the South, friend Scott Ogden says, “No other Southern bulb can match the fierce vigor, tenacity, and adaptability of the oxblood lily.” And though the striking blooms only last a week or two, the bulbs will outlive you, producing more and more blooms each year without ever needing to be divided, irrigated, sprayed, or fertilized.
If you don’t have a friend that will share, the Smith County Master Gardeners always have oxblood lilies at their award-winning annual Earth-Kind Bulbs to Blooms Conference and Sale held in Tyler each year. The educational program will feature yours truly via video and in person on the time-tested bulbs in the sale. The presentation on the heirloom, hardy, and hard-to-find bulbs available will be posted on the Smith County Master Gardeners website, Facebook, and YouTube pages. The sale itself will be conducted online with curbside pick-up at Pollard United Methodist Church in Tyler on Saturday, October 15. For more information, go to txmg.org/smith.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens,” read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, and read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.