Wildflower Wednesday: Zephyranthes atamasca

For this month's Wildflower Wednesday, hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone, I am featuring a rain garden favorite, Zephyranthes atamasca.  More commonly referred to as native rain lily. 

Nomenclature History

If the botanical name sounds Greek to you, it is. The genus name Zephyranthes comes from Zephyrus, the mythical Greek God of the west wind, known as the fructifying wind, the messenger of spring. Appropriately, Zephyrus was also the husband of the goddess of flower, Chloris. The species name, atamasco, was the original Native American name for flower. 

Originally, this plant was classified in the genus Amaryllis by Carl Linnaeus. However, botanists decided to restrict the Amaryllis to a single species from South Africa. So, in 1821, William Herbert placed it in the Zephyranthes genus. 

floriferous flowers after a good rain 

Plant Profile

This native plant grows from a subterranean bulb. The flower petals emerge a pale pink transforming into a gorgeous creamy white in full bloom. These showy trumpet like flowers bloom on a leafless scape; each scape providing a single bloom. The sedge-like foliage is evergreen making it a good all season perennial. 

soft shades of pink in emerging and spent flower heads

Rain lilies perform best in full sun and have an incredible tolerance for heat. Established plants deliver a spectacular show after a much needed summer pop up shower. The secret to these plants blooming prolifically in your garden is to alternate between wet and dry periods. This triggers them to bloom. They flower spring through fall but their most abundant flowering time is in summer.

This plant is native to my county in Georgia as shown on the 
USDA plant profile database.
Mysteriously, the flowers close up at night and open again the next morning. This movement is called nyctinasty [nik-TIN-as-tee] or sleeping movement. You may be familiar with this habit from another common plant, morning glory. It is not fully understood why plants do this but there are many theories. Some tests indicate that nyctinasty occurs in plants with smaller leaf areas and reduced biomass. 

Wildlife Value

Rain lilies are a popular pollinator plant too. Small skipper butterflies and flower flies often visit for the pollen and nectar. 

skipper butterfly

a not so graceful flower fly

red wasp gathering pollen for nearby ground nest

I find it fascinating to observe all the insect around plants. Not just the pollinators who visit but other beneficial insects that keep the equilibrium in the garden. Here are a few that have been hanging out in the rain lilies.

pink spotted lady beetle on rain lily

spider lurking on the petals for unsuspecting prey 

pale green assassin bug nymph

How to use it in the landscape

We planted rain lilies as a perennial border in our rain garden. This is a highly visible garden at the front of our home. On the street side of the bed, the rain lilies are partnered with cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), southern blue flag iris (Iris virginica) and blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium). In the middle of the bed is seashore mallow (Kissteletzkya virginica), summersweet clethera (Clethera alnifolia) and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera).

street view: rain lily border 

On the house side of the bed, the rain lilies are planted with black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and southern shield fern (Thelypteris kunthil), which will grow in full sun when constant moisture is available.

house side of rain garden: with black-eyed Susan and Southern shield fern

In nature rain lilies grow in acidic, mesic soils with lots of leaf mulch but in the home landscape they can make a great addition to a rock garden, perennial border, wildflower meadow or even in container plantings. They can perform in evenly moist soil or well drained soils. 

Rain lilies growing with gaillardia and creeping thyme in rock garden

This is a versatile, low maintenance, native wildflower that is a worthy performer in the home landscape. Give it a try.  


  1. Love it Karin! Sadly it won't grow on my alkaline soil, but what a beauty :)

    1. What a shame! It is a great plant for moist conditions.

  2. Stunning landscape with the rain lilies!

    1. Thank you! I love how showy they are when they bust into bloom!

  3. Beautifully done WW post. I bow to you!

  4. I love the idea that they bloom after a dry period and a good soak! I do have alkaline soil, but am adding them to my list anyhow as I'm a fan of trying things I "can't" grow, just to be sure (and have had some surprising successes doing so!)

    1. Wouldn't hurt to try and see. It may be an annual for you. This is species is native to a few of the southeastern states but there are others that may be hardier in your zone.

    2. Your right! Normally that's one of the first things I check, but I suppose I was so enthused by them, I completely forgot!


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One of my favorite things about blogging is the conversation with readers. Leave a comment and let's get talking. ~Karin

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