By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Oxblood Lilly, Rhodophiala bifida, also known as Schoolhouse Lilly, is a tropical bulb which can add a burst of color and elegance to your flower garden. The name Schoolhouse Lilly arose because the blooming time coincides with the start of school in the fall.
Whether you call it Schoolhouse or Oxblood Lily this plant has year-round interest. The deep red elegant blooms surprise you when they emerge in fall after summer dormancy. Next comes the narrow green leaves which can last into the winter. The blooms resemble an amaryllis and are only open for two to three days. Each plant, though, will continue to produce these vibrant, red blooms for about a month. The Latin name, Rhodophiala bifida has a clue to the shape of the bloom: saucer cleft into two parts.
Oxblood Lilies grow in full sun and partial shade if they get six to eight hours of sunlight per day. They are hardy plants that grow in a wide range of soil mediums and are heat tolerant and drought tolerant. Plant in spring or early autumn, sowing three inches deep with the neck facing up, eight inches apart. Water consistently during the first year of growth. Left alone, they will spread mannerly over time and become a standout focal point when they bloom. This plant thrives in warm climates but can withstand cold temperatures to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 C.).
Native to Argentina and Uruguay, this plant is grown for its looks not wildlife value. The bulbs are not common in many parts of the United States but the deep red oxblood form is common in certain areas of Texas. And there is a reason why! Peter Henry Oberwetter, a German native, migrated to Texas in 1849 and travelled through the Hill Country area before settling in Austin. A noted botanist, he collected and crossbred these bulbs. So, the presence of the Oxblood Lily presence correlates to the areas where he had his nursery beds. Look for his graveside historical marker in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.
Although Oxblood Lily is not generally available in a nursery, gardeners would recognize it as a pass-along plant. Pass-alongs are plants that have survived in gardens for decades by being loved and handed down one generation to another. Across the decades, people have recognized the special characteristics of these heirloom plants: hardiness, special beauty, or fragrance, valuing them as one would a special family recipe. And just as an heirloom connects one to the past, pass-along plants help you remember people, places, and events that are part of who you are.
So, if you want a plant that can connect you to Texas history and your own history, look for a garden where Oxblood Lilies grow, ask for a bulb, and see if you too can become part of this pass-along chain.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.