Autumn is a second spring in Texas and coincides with the leaving of the delicate ruby-throated hummingbirds and the arrival of the tough-as-nails oxblood lilies.
Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), also known as schoolhouse lilies, have the same growth cycle as red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) but generally bloom about a month earlier. Both produce flowers in the early 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 will find more oxblood lilies in the Germanic areas of Central Texas than in 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 diminutive 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, along the roadside, 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, watered, sprayed, or fertilized.
If you do not have a friend who will share, the Smith County Master Gardeners always have heirloom, hardy, and hard-to-find bulbs at their award-winning annual From Bulbs to Blooms Conference and Sale held in Tyler. The sale itself will be conducted online with curbside pick-up at Pollard United Methodist Church in Tyler on Saturday, October 21. This year Chris Wiesinger, owner of the Southern Bulb Company, and I will be featured at the October 21st in-person conference and will give presentations on uniquely adapted Southern bulbs and why they are so special. These locally farmed bulbs (including oxblood lilies) will be for sale to those in attendance at the lectures. For more information, go to txmg.org/smith or follow the Smith County Master Gardeners on Facebook.
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, Texas Home Landscaping, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can 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.