Plant of the Season - Autumn


Plant of the Season is brought to you by Gayle Parkes, OGV sub-committee member. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back regularly for her latest post. 

Zephyranthes is a genus of temperate and tropical plants in the Amaryllis family, subfamily Amaryllidoideae, native to the Western Hemisphere and widely cultivated as ornamentals. 

Following the expansion of the genus in 2019, which now includes the genera Habranthus and Sprekelia, there are about 200 recognized species, as well as numerous hybrids and cultivars. Common names for species in this genus include fairy lily, autumn crocus, rainflower, autumn zephyr lily, magic lily, Atamasco lily, and rain lily.

The name is derived from (Zephyrus), the Greek god of the west wind, and (anthos), meaning flower, referring to the slender stalks……… Wikepedia.

How I love my little clump of Zephyranthes candida! It is the plant that puts a smile on my face on every autumn stroll around my small garden. I bought my little darling in a tube at MIFGS about five years ago. Back then it probably cost me around $3.50 and wow, have I had my money’s worth! 

I planted them in a lovely olive green glazed pot and for two years, to my disappointment, they never flowered. But being the persistent positive person that most of us gardeners are, I continued to nurture it. Three years ago we moved from our very large garden to our small garden and I popped it in a spot which enjoys full sun and voila! The whitest, purest star shaped flowers have popped up every autumn since! It is obviously so happy to be out of its semi shaded position in our last garden and is enjoying basking in the sunshine! I love it because of its rapid repeat flowering trait and long flowering season in my garden, from late summer, right through to the end of autumn.

There are many varieties of Zephyranthes to choose from. All grow clumps of shiny grass like foliage that surround the single star shaped flowers borne on short, slender stems. They grow approximately 20-30cm tall x 20-30cm wide and are very hardy.

The foliage of the various types of Zephyranthes blends in well in rock gardens and can be used as borders in gardens or in containers. Their erect flower stalks support a flower that may be upward facing or slightly nodding. The funnel-shaped flowers with six petals can be crocus shaped, but may also open flat or even reflex slightly. The flowers typically last only for a day or two, but new flowers appear in a succession of blooms. These small bulbs earned the name "rain lily", as well as many other names, because they often flower within a few days after rain. 

Depending on the species, from spring through autumn, Zephyranthes can produce flushes of flowers that are bronze, copper, white, pink or yellow. Flowers of some new hybrids are in shades of peach, orange and red, and some have multi coloured flowers in striped or picotee patterns. 

Another plus for the pretty little Zephyranthes is that, even when not in flower, they give us an unobtrusive, reliable grassy border before transforming into a carpet of stars in full bloom. They look good all year round, forming a lush green grassy cover. These small perennials are among the easiest bulbs to grow and if left undisturbed will develop over several seasons into truly impressive clumps. 

They are looking their best when planted en-masse in broad ribbons or blocks, rather than spotted about the garden. They will be happy in any well drained and fertile soil, though some added organic matter will always be appreciated. They are low maintenance plants, particularly suitable for areas with limited space, like narrow strips down driveways, etc. They are great garden fillers and will cover the bare spots in your garden very quickly.
It is not difficult to grow Zephyranthes if the conditions are favourable and they are planted in the right area. These plants require full sun, but can also survive in light shade in hot climates. Though they require rain to trigger flowering, they cannot thrive in soggy conditions. Plant the bulbs 5cm deep in the soil and provide a spacing of at least 10cm between the bulbs. After planting, the bulbs require a good amount of watering. Within a few weeks, they will start producing new foliage. 

Only divide and move your bulbs when the garden bed or pot becomes overcrowded. Your friends will love to receive a potted up clump to add to their garden.
So for me, it’s off to MIFGS to buy more tubes of this fabulous little performer to grow in drifts in a new narrow bed down our driveway. I’m going to mix them in clumps with Euphorbia Myrsinites and Tulbaghia Society Garlic. Or you might enjoy sitting back and perusing the many online bulb growers’ catalogues in order to purchase lots and lots of whichever type of Zephyranthes that take your fancy! You won’t be sorry.