Answers to Go with Susan Smith
Q. Occasionally, I see thousands of white rain lilies on the old Lamar School lawn at the corner of Hutchison and Moore Streets. Can you help me find out more about the life cycle and range of these wildflowers?
A . Our collection of books on local native plants is outstanding. We have copies of two different Texas wildflower books by Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller. The following information comes from these books.
Their book published in 1984 gives this scientific name for rain lilies: Cooperia pedunculata. The newer edition includes two popular names: Hill Country Rain Lily and Prairie Rain Lily.
The Loughmillers write: “Rain lilies pop up and bloom two or three days after good rains in the spring and early summer.
“They begin to open slowly about dusk and are fully opened the next morning. Flowers are trumpet-shaped for a few hours after opening, but the three petals and three sepals, all white, spread widely to 2 inches across as they mature. They last only a day or two.
“The fragrant blossom is at the top of the single, unbranched stem, which is 5-9 inches high. The leaves are at the bottom, 6-12 inches long and a quarter inch wide.
“Soon after flowering, a three-lobed capsule develops where the flower had been. When mature, the capsule splits open along three seams and releases dozens of glossy, jet-black, wafer-like seeds having the texture of crepe.
Flowering occurs primarily in April and May, usually about two days after a rain. Flowering may occur sporadically through the summer and fall, and also after rains.
“In years with long periods of drought in winter and early spring, heavy rains can trigger a spectacular flush of flowers, often blanketing fields and meadows in snowy white drifts of flowers.
“The Hill Country Rain Lily is common in East, Central and South Texas and in northern Mexico. A similar white-flowered species, Drummond’s Rain Lily, has smaller flowers and does not appear until summer and fall in most years.”
In “Wildflowers of the Western Plains,” Zoe Merriman Kirkpatrick offers this additional information on the Drummond Rain Lily: “A mostly perennial herb, with leaves and stem rising from a bulb about the size of a small onion, which is sometimes found as deep as 1 foot underground. It has several coats, or layers, like the skins on an onion bulb, which are black or brown in color.”
I also looked up rain lilies in “Edible and Useful Plants of the Southwest: Texas New Mexico, and Arizona” by Delena Tull. Despite the title, I found Cooperia species rain lilies under “Poisonous and Harmful Plants.”
Apparently, these rain lilies are part of the amaryllis family which contains nearly 200 alkaloids. Tull writes, “Virtually all of the family are potentially highly toxic. The toxicity is usually concentrated in the roots, but all parts of the plant should be considered potentially toxic. Human ingestions rarely occur but can cause severe poisoning.”