The Oxblood Lily: A Naturalized Texan.

During our recent Trash Bash volunteering, my kids & I encountered this little red flower standing alone, in the dirt. Through a quick internet search, I was able to give it a name. And an origin. The Oxblood Lily: a naturalized Texan…

Meet the Oxblood Lily: A Naturalized Texan.

The Oxblood Lily - Argentine Native gone Texan, standing alone in the dirt.
The Oxblood Lily – Argentine Native gone Texan, standing alone in the dirt.

From the looks of it, you’d think it was native. Surviving the tough extremes of floods to drought, hot and cold. Then somehow, without any visible foliage, it sprouts these lovely red blooms at the beginnings of fall. This one looks like its survived many a close shave, er…mowing.

Origins of the Oxblood.

Although the lily is now common all over the south, it’s U.S. origins seem to stem from early German Texas settlers. Specifically a colonist and botanist by the name of Peter Heinrich Oberwetter (1830-1915) who imported the bulbs from Argentina.

Peter Henry Oberwetter was born in Dornberg, Westphalia, on 8 January 1830. In 1848, having sailed on the Canapus, Oberwetter and his wife arrived in New Orleans. They made their home in Comfort, Kendall County, Texas. Oberwetter pursued a scientific interest in botany, both in Texas and–during the Civil War–in Mexico. After the war he lived in Austin, where he worked as a printer and as a landscaper on the Texas Capitol grounds and at the Texas School for the Deaf. “By 1883 he was recognized as an important botanist of the area and from about 1889 to 1896 he had a ‘florist shop with an appropriate greenhouse for all of his exotic plants and bulbs.” He is known especially for his pioneering work with amaryllis.

Flachmeier, Jeanette. “Peter Henry Oberwetter, German American.” The Journal (German-Texan Heritage Society), vol. 30, no. 3, Fall 2008, pp. 278-81.
Essay submitted by a student as part of the Austin Ethnic History Association’s Contest, April 1980.
https://mki.wisc.edu/content/new-acquisitions-summer-2009

*Fun fact: Oberwetter is buried at Oakwood Cemetery, Austin.

…Oberwetter is believed to be the first to import the oxbloods from Argentina.  Due to his efforts, the oxblood has been very popular in the areas of Texas originally settled by German settlers.

“Oxblood Lilies” by Jay White, Masters of Horticulture
http://masterofhort.com/2011/08/oxblood-lilies-rhodophiala-bifida/)

According to Jay White of Masters of Horticulture, other common names include the Schoolhouse and Hurricane Lily (due to time of year, and in more Southern regions, correlation with the late rains of hurricane season). The lily goes dormant over the summer and prefers dry soil during this dormancy. It only begins to bloom after a good drought, then rain.

Argentine with German Roots. Texan at Heart.

So there you have it. Little did I know that during our trash bashing we’d encounter such a fascinating little flower from the amaryllis family, and also its very Texan roots. By scientific standards, it may not be a true native, but naturalized it certainly is.

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