By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Tropical bulbs add exotic elegance to the landscape. Many of these are remarkably hardy, such as oxblood lily, which can withstand temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 C.). What is oxblood lily? This native of Argentina and Uruguay produces a stellar flower that is blood red and highly impactful. Northern gardeners down to zone 7 can try growing oxblood lilies in a sheltered location. Some tips on how to grow oxblood lilies can help you enjoy these astounding blooming bulbs.
Oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida) is a fall blooming plant which goes dormant in summer. The blooms look similar to amaryllis, but the two plants are not related. Each bloom is only open for 2 to 3 days, but the flowering clump will produce for up to a month. The bulbs are not common in many parts of North America but can be found quite extensively in Texas where they were first introduced. Oxblood lily care is fairly specific, but the plant is extremely adaptable to different soil conditions and makes a bright and eye-catching addition to the autumn garden.
In spite of this plant’s slightly gruesome name, the lily is a marvel when it blooms. It was introduced by Peter Henry Oberwetter, who stumbled across some oxblood lily bulbs around the 1800’s. As a collector, he became fascinated with the plants and allowed the bulbs to replicate. Today, the lily is mostly confined to certain areas of Texas where Oberwetter had his nursery beds. It is primarily a shared plant and not readily available at nurseries.
Oxblood lily info indicates the plant is also known as schoolhouse lily. The deep color of the blooms is a magnet to hummingbirds, blooming at just around the time school starts in fall. They are also known as hurricane lily due to the timing of the blooms, which coincides with the storm season.
Oxblood lilies are extremely adaptable to a wide range of soils. They can even thrive in heavy clay, but as with most bulbs, do not try growing oxblood lilies in boggy soils. They also tolerate alkaline to acidic soil. The plants are heat and drought tolerant but do require consistent spring rains to form foliage and flowers.
Foliage emerges first and then dies back just prior to flowering. This bulb is hardy from United States Department of Agriculture zones 7 to 11.
Full sun to partial shade locations are recommended. Select a location with 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Flowers tend to last longer in areas with some protection from the hottest rays of the day.
Late summer to early fall is the perfect time to install these beauties. Plant bulbs 3 inches (8 cm.) deep with the neck facing upward and at least 8 inches (20 cm.) apart.
These bulbs appear to be short lived, often only blooming a couple of seasons. The bulbs naturalize readily and should be separated every couple of years, providing a consistent supply of the plants.
Water them well for the first year but thereafter the plants can survive dry periods. Apply a 5-5-10 fertilizer in summer to promote big healthy blooms.
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The easy-to-grow Rhodophiala bifida [roh-doh-FY-al-luh, BIF-id-uh] is an interesting plant with bright, vivid flowers.
It belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family of plants and offsets vigorously, making it easy to propagate.
Rhodophiala bifida has several common names:
It’s a hardy plant native to Uruguay and Argentina.
It’s also been introduced to the southern parts of North America, where it grows well in dry regions of Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.
More from the Amaryllidaceae Family:
These herbaceous perennials are known for their colorful leaves, which come in a variety of hues, and showy, lily-like flowers. Hostas are typically used as ground cover or as an addition to shady borders.
They flourish in partial to full shade and grow well in moist, rich, well-drained soil. Hostas with bluish leaves need a bit more shade than their green or yellow counterparts. With the exception of snails and slugs, hostas are generally free of invertebrate pests, making them fairly easy to care for and low-maintenance plants.
A couple days ago, between rainstorms, I returned to Tom Ellison’s garden to see his crop of oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida). Austin’s gardens, especially in older neighborhoods like Tom’s own Tarrytown, blaze with diminutive red flags after the first good rain of late summer. Although the oxblood lily show lasts only a week, it’s a good one, especially since it heralds cooler weather and autumn’s reflowering of our gardens.
I last visited Tom’s garden in May 2014, when his beloved daylilies were flowering. But Tom has a lot more going on than just daylilies. As you approach his corner lot, you see a trio of ‘Green Goblet’ agaves among limestone boulders, with scarlet oxblood lilies fanning out on either side. Tom fills in with annuals when the lilies are out of season.
As the morning sun cleared the trees, the oxbloods began glowing like Chinese lanterns. Behind them diaphanous foxtail fern catches the light too, while the darker green agaves hulk alongside.
Oxblood lily’s green stems are naked when the flowers pop up seemingly overnight. As flowers fade, narrow green leaves appear at ground level. These remain through winter, soaking up sunlight so the bulb can store energy for next year.
After admiring the lilies, I toured the rest of the garden with Tom and his wife, Pat. Tom’s cottage-style garden is alight with colorful flowers, both inside and outside the lattice-style fence that encloses their front yard.
Tall ruellia mingles with golden thryallis and red salvia outside the fence.
Elephant ears in a coppery pot seem to be peeking through the fence.
As you step through the gate into the front garden, a charming sign welcomes you.
Tom makes art out of found objects, displaying it throughout his garden. The Arduous Journey is a wizened tree trunk, into whose fissures Tom glued asphalt paving gravel he picked up from the street and painted.
Looking around I spotted a terracotta bowl of rusty-spined cactus with an old toy car parked in it.
Echoing those rusty orange hues, pomegranates dangle from their tree like autumn-colored Christmas balls.
Here’s my favorite vignette in Tom’s garden: a froggy, classical urn-style birdbath near the front door. It charms me every time, and now there are TWO frogs where there used to be just one.
They represent Pat (left) and Tom (right). Aren’t they adorable? They’re sitting in a shallow pool of water with Mexican beach pebbles, with society garlic, plumbago, and oxblood lilies all around.
Rain lilies in a darker pink than I usually see.
But the most beautiful flower in Tom’s garden, for my money, is this tropical waterlily.
Does it make me miss my own pond? Not really. Mine never got enough sun to produce many waterlily flowers. If I ever have a sunnier spot though, who knows!
Water literally courses through Tom’s garden, home to two ponds and a stream. A metal heron, with oxblood lilies blooming at its feet, has snagged a fish.
A canna lily and pond grasses catch the morning light.
Tom says this silvery green dyckia is winter hardy. It’s stunning. I love the way it gleams in its white dish, echoing the sparkles coming off the pond.
I sense a frog theme. This cutie with a wtf expression — 2020, amiright? — holds a small fern.
This pale-pink caladium with kelly-green edges and veins is Pat’s favorite and grows by the back door.
‘Milky Way’ cast-iron plant (Aspidistra) glows as the sunlight touches its white-speckled leaves.
‘Blue Glow’ agave harmonizes with its blue pot and a ceramic vase on a fence post.
Tom and Pat’s main patio is in the side yard, bordering a stream that flows between two ponds. Here Tom has created a whimsical gnome garden for his grandchildren to enjoy. Charming little houses made with scrap metal and found objects are tucked under plants, and a train track runs through the village. The train wasn’t running during my visit, but I bet the grandkids love it.
Each gnome represents a particular person in Tom and Pat’s extended family. Notice the ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers for a chimney flue atop the white house.
I have a feeling these two are Tom and Pat. Tom says the gnomes mine for gems and are in the jewelry business, hence the glitter and gold.
The gnomes like to decorate with colorful buttons and adorned the tree man who watches over them.
Heading around to the tiny backyard, we passed a gorgeous American beautyberry laden with purple berries.
Here more of Tom’s art is displayed, including Grandpa’s Wrenches. A bust of Lyndon Johnson, which I mistook at first glance for Bill Murray, stares pensively from the ferns.
A sink hanging on the house on a green painted frame holds a pink-and-green caladium.
And a 1949 Plymouth grill adorns an even higher level. It kind of reminds me of frog eyes, actually.
Thank you to Tom and Pat for sharing your lovely garden with me again! I’m especially glad to have seen it while the oxblood lilies are in bloom.
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Well ya know me . always wandering around in woods.Well wandered upon me some oxblood lilys.
They must have been there awhile cause are down about 12-14 inches.Seems I seem to have read they get planted4 inches deep.some are big bulbs some are smaller .So do i replant the large ones deeper?8 inches barely keeps stem errect(least the ones I didn't break)I'd swear the bulb had turned sideways with stem growing out side not top.
other question is do they form seeds?I see 2 bulb stems no flower but has green pod thing small like on amaryllis that forms seeds.And these are in shade growing so transplanting to MY shade,just 8.while there trimmed up hygrandea and got rid of dead stems and trimmed others for cuttings.checked out the kewl wisteria a run up stairs of house across the porch and growing inside the house on its way out of kitchen into liveingroom.some pine tree saplings young enough to move.Great day that day considering comp screwed up.
Can't agree is schoolhoue lily cause school starts Aug 9th.
I can agree about hurricane lily cause ivan passed through. dumped 6 inches& they appeared.
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I will age ungracefully until I become an old woman in a small garden..doing whatever the Hell I want!
You are right - that is truly kewl. I've never seen them before - guess that's cause I don't live down south.
I hope you ahve luck growing them in your shade.
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When sorting seeds, do not whistle.