Plant of the Month – October, 2007

Rhodophiala bifida
Oxblood or Schoolhouse Lily

At a glance
Latin Name: Rhodophiala bifida
Common Name: Oxblood or schoolhouse lily
Flowers: Appearing in late Sept. through Oct. with no foliage. Deep carmine red.
Foliage: Typical short bulb foliage appears in fall and goes dormant in summer
Mature height: 12 inches
Hardiness: Hardy perennial in zones 7 to 10
Soil: Not picky
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Water usage: Low
Sources: Mail-order or local nurseries

In almost any town in Texas with a German background, you can find these tough bulbs popping up in old yards and cemeteries, long outliving the structures they once were planted around. But seldom will you find oxblood lilies on nursery shelves!

Oxbloods are aptly named for their deep red flowers which appear at various times during September. They have been in beautiful flower the past 10 days across Texas. A great thing about this incredible plant is that one bulb can send up multiple stems each with several flowers. And these flowers last! Unlike most bulbs, which only bloom for a few days, oxbloods can keep flowering for up to 3 weeks.

So why don’t you have some in your yard? Why doesn’t every nursery stock them? Good questions. The best answer I can come up with is that like a lot of other “pass-along,” plants this one only grows best in the heat of the south, so big suppliers don’t carry it.

Thank goodness for southern ingenuity, however. Finally, we have some people paying attention to the plants that really grow for us. You can find oxblood lilies aplenty on the internet—try the Southern Bulb Company (, Yucca Do Nursery ( and Plant Delights ( If you look hard enough you can even find the rare pink version of this southern classic for sale. Also, if you live near a local Calloway’s retail nursery, you can find them for sale there.

Most likely, when you buy oxblood lilies, you will get dormant bulbs. Plant them 6 to 8 inches into the soil. They grow foliage during the fall, winter, and early spring, and then with the first heat blast of summer, they go dormant and wait for the fall rains before blooming. They grow equally well in full sun or light shade and don’t care if the soil is alkaline or acid.

If I haven’t sold you on oxblood lilies yet, then take a look at the photos. These are a handful of bulbs I planted in my mother’s garden less than 5 years ago! I have faith they’ll be blooming in that yard long after the house is only a memory.

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.

Adult Education at the Dallas Arboretum

Cultivate your mind and nurture your spirit with these exciting classes set in Dallas ‘ most beautiful classroom. New this fall, we have taken some great classes and paired them together to help you double your learning pleasure. Spend a morning or spend a full day growing your mind in the garden. Join us this fall and let us bring nature to life for you! To register for classes, or for more program information, visit our website at and click on Learn, or call (214)515-6540.

10/7 Intermediate Watercolor III
10/7 Up Close & Personal
10/7 Bugs!
10/7 Shady Characters
10/11 The Beauty of Natural Settings
10/14 Intermediate Watercolor IV
10/14 English Gardens TX Style
10/14 Pruning Practices for Fall
10/14 Perennials for Late Summer and Fall
10/21 Winter Wonderland
10/28 Chinese Brush Painting
10/28 Herbs From the Ground Up
10/28 Harvesting & Preserving Herbs
10/28 Herbin’ Renewal: Bath & Body

Posted by Neil Sperry
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