Plant of the Month – October, 2007

‘Prairie Sunset’ Rain Lily

At a glance

Latin Name: Zephyranthes x ‘Prairie Sunset’
Common Name: Prairie Sunset Rain Lily
Flowers: open apricot, fading to pink
Foliage: fine and grasslike
Mature height: 12 inches
Hardiness: Hardy perennial in
Zones 7b to 10
Soil: not picky
Exposure: full sun to light shade
Water usage: low
Sources: mail-order or local nurseries

Sometimes it’s not all about new and different – sometimes it’s about good plants that have been forgotten. And I believe rain lilies are one group of plants Texans shouldn’t forget!

Zephyranthes x ‘Prairie Sunset’ is one of the many rain lily varieties of which I’m especially fond. It’s a hybrid of the familiar white rain lily, Z. candida. ‘Prairie Sunset’ has flowers that start out as deep rose-pink buds that open to a peachy apricot, then fade to a light pink – a color combination that melds into any garden scheme.

Rain lilies are exceptionally well-adapted to our Texas climate, yet I very seldom see them in gardens. In fact, quite a few of them are native! Did I mention drought-resistant? What more could you ask for? Pretty flowers? They have that, too.

So why don’t you see them on every nursery shelf? Because home gardeners just won’t buy anything that isn’t in full bloom the day they show up to the nursery. Rain lilies are special, magical and ephemeral: The flowers appear in great abundance when you least expect them, right after a rain shower or during the cool weather of fall. Supposedly, they are triggered to flower by a change in barometric pressure.

If you’re worried about forgetting to water your plants or needing to cut back, this tiny bulb will flower equally happily growing in a pot, in a perennial border or in that dry bed sitting right beside an agave that only receives natural rainfall. If they don’t get water, they just curl up and take a nap until cooler, moist fall weather. If you do keep your beds watered, the foliage will persist through summer and the plants will flower even more heavily.

So where can you buy rain lilies? Luckily, this plant is seeing a small revival and some of the better retailers are carrying them. They may not have many, and most likely they won’t be easy to find, so you might have to ask. If they don’t carry them, ask to have them special-ordered for you. I know for sure that several of the large nursery suppliers in Texas are growing this particular variety and currently have it for sale. Also, an internet search for “rain lily” will turn up dozens of mail-order options. It is best to buy these as growing plants in 4-inch or 1-gallon containers. Quite often you will find the dormant bulbs for sale, but be very careful purchasing them. Rain lily bulbs do not store well.

PS. This is one of the plants by which I judge a garden. If I see any rain lilies in your garden, you instantly score high on my sophistication meter! Also, be warned, after you get one good clump going, you’ll start collecting them!

About the author: Jimmy Turner is the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. For more plant profiles by Jimmy, subscribe to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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