I said “rain lilies” in the title because I didn’t want to daunt you with the scientific name, Zephyranthes. But if gardeners wrote alphabet books, Z would be for zephyranthes!
Zephyranthes are some of the most delicate, graceful flowers there are. They come in red, pink, rose, coral, white, pale yellow, vivid lemon yellow, deep orange, or in sunset blends of colors. Most zephyranthes bloom repeatedly through the summer and into early fall.
Zephyranthes are native to the New World, and grow best in areas with warm summers, generally USDA zones 8 and warmer. Depending on species, some survive winters to 0 degrees F, meaning in USDA zone 6. Read more about our Southwest growing regions here.
With more than 70 species and extensive territory, Zephyranthes have a variety of common names, some of them quite appealing. In the Caribbean, they are called “flowers of the West wind.” Zephyr lily, fairy lily and fire lily are some of the other common names. Natives of Florida told explorers the plant was “atamasco,” and atamasco lily is another common name. In the Southwest we call them rain lilies because they appear with the summer rains.
Grow Rain Lilies
You can usually find rain lilies to buy starting in late spring; they usually come in 1-gallon pots with ample soil around them. The plants come out of the pot in a big clump of 30 or so bulbs. You can simply plant the entire clump intact, or separate them and spread them out around the garden.
Rain lilies do best with a little shade during our intense Southwest summers. If you plant them around the base of trees or shrubs, everyone wins. You get a ground cover that shades the ground so your trees lose less water to evaporation, and zephyranthes get some shade. The cover of zephyranthes hides fallen leaves, which turn into nutrient-rich compost for continued plant health, and you have less raking. It’s a win, win, and win situation.
Rain Lily Varieties
The most common rain lily in the Southwest is the biggest Zephyranthes of all, Zephyranthes grandiflora. Flowers open to around 5 inches across on a 1-foot stem. Generally a warm glowing pink, and occasionally a rosy red, these flowers extend above the narrow, arching 12-inch long, ribbon-like leaves.
There are numerous cultivars, since Zephyranthes will cross readily to produce a blue-ribbon blend of colors. “Prairie Sunset” (offered by Mountain States Wholesaler Nursery to plant retailers across the Southwest) has large coral flowers with traces of pink and yellow. “Apricot Queen” is low growing and features apricot flowers with a yellow blush. And for the Texans reading this, remember the “Alamo,” with deep rose-pink flowers flushed with yellow.
You Can Grow That
No mater what they are called, Zephyranthes are a lovely addition to any yard. Just pick your favorite color (or colors) and tuck some in around your trees and shrubs for future fantastic flowers.
For the Plant Nerds – Zephyranthes Names
The taxonomy of Zephyranthes is slightly mixed up, as always seems to happen when plants become popular with gardeners. But here are some names you can take to the nursery.
Zephyranthes grandiflora with large pink flowers (occasionally sold as rosea or robustus).
Z. citrina has bright yellow flowers on very short stalks (occasionally sold as sulphurea).
For white, select Z. candida, with stiffly upright round leaves and generally non-fragrant flowers.
Atamasco lily, Z. atamasco, has straplike leaves and fragrant white flowers, and does better in at least one-half day of shade in hot zones, due to summer heat. Great in USDA zone 7.
Hard to find, but worth it, is Z. bifolia, with cardinal-red flowers.
Z. macrosiphon has bright red flowers.
Z. tubiflora, from Peru, is called the fire lily, with flowers the deep orange of a campfire.