Return of the Hurricane Lilies

When I mowed the front lawn a couple of weeks ago, I kept watch for hurricane lily stalks and didn’t spot a single one. The lilies are usually in full bloom by mid-September, but by September 15 this year not a single stalk had shown itself. I hoped our very dry summer hadn’t done them in, but since the original bulbs were planted before I moved into this house in 1976, they are clearly tough.

Last Friday my vigil was rewarded with the first few stalks, and by this morning the lilies were up in force, a few of them even beginning to bloom. Perhaps they were inspired by the generous rain we finally got last week.  They may be a week or ten days later than usual this year, but the lilies are always a welcome sign that the end of the long hot Texas summer is in sight. So this morning I gave my front lawn a poodle cut, being sure not to disturb any of the lily stalks.  Hopefully the lawn mowing season will be over in another few weeks, too

Here is the broadest cluster of stalks, just getting ready to pop.

Lilies 092214

And here are two of the first blooms.

Lilies 092214 open

Welcome back, Fall.

As the Hurricane Lily Opens

It was still dark when I went out to retrieve my newspaper this morning.  I was leaving early to meet friends for the drive to our monthly West Houston RWA chapter meeting, about forty miles from my home, and I didn’t have time for my usual morning walk.  So I didn’t get a good look at my hurricane lily until I got home this afternoon.  It’s still the only flower, although a few other stems have popped up, and it’s now in full bloom.

This morning’s Houston Chronicle featured a timely article about three “naturalizing heirloom bulbs” that bloom in our area in September.  One of the three is my flower, Lycoris radiata, known as hurricane or red spider lily. The plant is a native of Asia, often found in abandoned landscapes, hardy and drought tolerant.  I had no idea that the lilies were not native to this area, since they’ve been here longer than I have, or that they would be considered heirloom plants. That’s a term usually applied to agricultural plants no longer grown commercially, and sometimes used, as in this case, for one-time landscape plants (heirloom roses, for example, are much prized) gone wild around old homestead sites.  Back when I was doing archeological survey work, I learned that such plants were sometimes all that remained of a long abandoned home place.

Near my advance scout I spotted a clump of bulbs.  I have a feeling they really shouldn’t be quite this close to the surface, but there they are.  I’ll keep an eye on this bunch to see if they sprout this year.  If they don’t, perhaps I’ll make a gardening effort in the spring.  The article suggests dividing mature bulbs (do I ask for proof of age?) in April or May and planting them in ground cover (I guess grass counts), in borders (I don’t have anything that formally landscaped) or even in pots (I could probably handle that–whether the lilies could is another question).

Meanwhile, weather widget on my computer screen says the temperature is down to 77 degrees a few miles from here at the nearest Weatherbug site, and predicts a low tonight of 68.  It hasn’t been that cool here in months.  That would mean perfect lawn-mowing weather tomorrow morning, but I’m going to wait another week, until the rest of the lilies come up.  It’s one thing to abuse the bulbs, but I don’t want to risk mowing down any low stems.

Couldn’t ask for a better excuse.


The First Sign of Autumn

It’s the first week in September and still hitting the upper 90s every day.  There may be a “not so hot” front coming this weekend, but we have a good bit of summer left on the Texas Gulf Coast.

But autumn is coming.  Really.  This morning the first hurricane lily opened in my front yard.

I’m not much of a botanist, or even a gardener.  I mow the lawn, prune a few low hanging branches, do a little weeding, but I don’t grow flowers, not on purpose anyway. For many years I knew these flowers by the name my gardener neighbor calls them, naked ladies, because they pop up and bloom on bare stalks, with the folliage coming up later.  Then a year or two ago I saw an article in the Houston Chronicle identifying them as hurricane lilies.  That makes sense.  They reach their peak around the middle of September, as does the hurricane season here on the Gulf Coast.

Last year was extremely dry, and the lilies, which grow in a wide strip across my front yard near the street, put up a rather meager display.  This year we had a decent amount of rain through the late spring and summer, so I’m hoping they’ll do better.  There have been years when they were so thick that people stopped to take pictures, and others when they barely appeared.  Hurricane Rita blew them down a few years ago, even though she made landfall well to the east of Houston.  Hurricane Ike came right up Galveston Bay and smashed the flowers flat.

The hurricane lilies are survivors.  Their bulbs were in the yard when we moved into this house in 1976.  I have no idea how bulbs propagate, whether the flower I photographed this morning sprang from a forty-year-old bulb or a seventeenth-generation descendant.  They’re not buried very deeply, and I’ve never done a thing to them–except run my lawn mower over them.  Yet year after year they reappear, splashing my yard with red every September.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not going to look for it.   For the next couple of weeks, I’m just going to go out in the morning and admire the flowers.