Rescuing Rain Lilies

As gardeners, aren't we all tempted by beautiful plants that occur along the roadsides and in other public places? If we only take a few, it won't make much difference, right? Wrong!

Even if it weren't illegal, it is selfish to remove plants from roadsides where we all can enjoy them to the seclusion of your own yard. These days, many of the roadside wildflowers are planted by the Department of Transportation. We certainly should not be taking these plants, whether they were planted by Mother Nature or purchased with our taxes. But under certain circumstances you can get a permit to do so. A road near my house is due to be widened from two lanes to four. When the road construction begins, a sizable population of beautiful native rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) in a ditch next to this road would be buried.

This native rain lily occurs from north central Florida through the panhandle and is threatened in the state. It's classified as facultative wetland plant that usually grows in damp places, but can also survive in drier habitats. I love rain lilies, because you never know exactly when you'll see them. They tend to sprout in the spring after a good rain. Maybe this is why they are also called fairly lilies or zephyr lilies. The rain lilies are not true lilies, but belong to the amaryllis family—Amaryllidaceae. Their flowers are similar to lilies in that they have the six tepals. The tepals all look the same, but in reality the three on the inside are petals and the ones on the outside are sepals, hence the term "tepal."

I contacted Clay County and found the right department to obtain a permit to rescue these lilies. Because this was a road project, I applied for a public works permit. As part of the application process, I needed to map out the exact location and someone from the county came out to inspect the site and took a photo—a copy of which was included with the permit papers.

By the time I received the permit and could recruit some assistance from Pete Johnson and Ed Rutherford, two fellow FNPS members, the ditch had been mowed and the rain lilies were no longer blooming. They were not easy to find even with the help of my map. We did find a section of the ditch where the vegetation was different and after more than a few empty shovels full; we found some bulbs. We had to sniff the bulbs to make sure that they were not the wild garlic (Allium canadense), which also grows in this ditch. (I wrote about the garlic a few weeks ago on this blog.)

Ed was the first to come up with a good shovelful of rain lily bulbs. Once we found the right part of the ditch we were able to dig up about 100 or so bulbs. As required on the permit, we filled up our holes and tamped the sandy soil in back in place so the county mowers can easily mow this area until the construction starts.

I'm sure we missed a good portion of the population because we were digging blind. If we're lucky, the road construction will not start until after next spring when the rain lilies will be in bloom again. I'll file for an extension on the permit and hope to rescue the rest of them.
Pete and Ed planted these rescued bulbs at the Jacksonville Arboretum: some along the ravine trail and the rest in a dry retention pond. I will visit the arboretum next spring to take photos of the relocated rain lilies.

If you're looking to add these beautiful native rain lilies to your rain garden or other moist area, be sure to purchase them from a legitimate native nursery operation. Please don't remove plants from our roadsides or any other public land without a permit.

Ginny Stibolt


Ginny Stibolt said…
If you're in the Jacksonville area, Jacksonville arboretum is a worthwhile stop. It's 120 acres just off 9A on the east side of town and consists of mature forested areas, a lake with streams, and walking trails throughout.
sweetpea said…
I will be vacationing in Jax for the 4th. I am by the St John's Town Center, by Southside. Can you tell a little more how to get to the aubortourium (OOPS).
Ginny Stibolt said…

Go north on 9A; exit east on Monument Road; take quick left on Millcoe Road; go 1/4 mile and turn right into the Arboretum parking area. The address is 1445 Millcoe. It's open from 8am to 7pm seven days per week. Dogs must be leashed.
For more info see:

Enjoy your holiday.
Anonymous said…
Cool about rescuing lilies!

Could you tell me if the rain lilies I have are the same species? And if they are different - what are they? I am thinking of moving some from my yard to our new place in Gainesville and am wondering if they are natives. Thanks!
Ginny Stibolt said…
The pinkish rain lilies in your photo are beautiful, but they are not native.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Ginny! Do you happen to know what species they are? They are common around town in Tampa.
Ginny Stibolt said…
Probably Zephyranthes Rosea, te Cuban rain lily.
Anonymous said…

Popular posts from this blog

Tropical Milkweed is Harmful to Monarchs & Florida Ecosystems

Australian Pine: One of Florida's Least Wanted

Florida Native Azaleas