In The High Desert Garden: The monsoon brings the rain lilies — Zephyranthes

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The very first time I saw the beautiful rain lilies was at the butterfly and hummingbird garden at Kartchner Caverns. This garden alone is worth the trip to the caverns.

Here one can see all the beautiful plants that can be grown in the high desert, and there are so many flowering varieties that do very well in our climate and attract the many species of butterflies and hummingbirds in our area. 

The members of the Sierra Vista Area Garden Club used to go to the gardens once a month to help with the upkeep. This was a lot of fun and, as I was fairly new to the high desert a learning experience that was very welcomed.

On one of these workdays during the monsoon, I noticed these beautiful, colorful flowers, and I was told, these are the rain lilies. They reminded me of white crocuses. The blossoms were pure white with bright yellow stamens. The flowers close at night and on shady days. The leaves are thin and grass like, and are similar to the ones of onions. The name “Zephyrantes” is taken from the Greek word “Zephros,” the God of the west wind, and the word “anthos,” which means flower. As the west wind brings the rain, the plant flowers after a heavy rainstorm in summer. 

No amount of watering can make it flower at any other time. This plant is amazing, it can grow in desert soil, and only appears with the monsoon. It can survive in good garden soil with irrigation and grow it’s grass like foliage happily in the midst of the rose garden, and, this is hard to believe, it can grow in a water garden, a pond, where it will stay evergreen all year long, but it will only bloom when the monsoon arrives.

Rain lilies are native to Argentina and are now naturalized over much of the world. Rain lilies are easy to grow from seeds, but it will take a few years for the plant to produce flowers, because the seed have to grow into bulbs that have to mature to flower. It is more rewarding to divide the clump and plant the bulb lets, these will not take too long to bloom.

There are several varieties available. The white ones are Z. candida, I love the pink variety, Z. grandiflora. They are a lot larger and more prolific; they are stunning. During the deep freeze we had two years ago I lost some of my white ones, but the pink ones made it through without problem.

There is also a yellow variety, Z. refugiensis, and a Mexican one, Z. labuffarosa, which has light pink flowers, but I have not come across these two varieties. I love my Zephyranthes, and they are absolutely stunning, but the show never last long, only one to two days, but there is always the next rain.

ANGEL RUTHERFORDis a Cochise County Master gardener, a member of the Sierra Vista Area Gardeners Club. Her Artwork can be seen at the Huachuca Art Gallery at the Mall at Sierra Vista. Visit Angel Oct. 5 and 6 at “Art in the Park” at the members tent. Visit Angel’s website at, and visit her web page at

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