Zephyranthes is a genus of about 70 species in the Amaryllis family. Common names for species in this genus include fairy lily, rainflower, zephyr lily and rain lily.
According Meerow et al., cladistics suggests that they are native to the Americas. This is important to mention since several species have become naturalized (sometimes unintentionally) in distant places like Hawaii, Indonesia, and Thailand. The species that are native to the higher altitudes in Mexico (e.g. Z. lindleyana) and parts of North America (e.g. Z. longifolia) or Argentina (e.g. Z. candida) represent the species having the greatest potential for cold hardiness.
These perennial geophytes are remarkable for the many ecological niches they tolerate (periodically wet soil to desert conditions), and have many ornamental characteristics worth preserving. Care should be taken with the plants since many of the parts, leaves, bulbs etc. are toxic. Although the genus has been evaluated for possible medicinal properties the biochemically toxic compounds are things like alkaloids. (Kojima et al 1997.)
Species in the genus which are listed in this article, vary in morphology. Characteristics such as bulb size, tunic color, and leaf morphology help to identify the species. Foliage in the wild is often ephemeral, but under cultivation becomes more persistent. Leaf color ranges from the bright grassy green of Z. candida (shown in the photo) to rather broad glaucous colored foliage such as Z. drummondii. A few of the species have distinct bronze tints in the foliage when grown in bright light. Size of leaves in these species, ranges from dark green and tiny grassy leaves in species like Z.jonesi or Z. longifolia, to broader, glaucous leaves in species like Z. drummondii, and perhaps largest of all, the cultivar commonly known as "Horsetail Falls" which has handsome broad leaves almost like a Hippeastrum.
Flower color in the species ranges from white to yellow (various tints of this color from lemon to sulfur) and pink. Zephyranthes have erect flower stalks which support a flower that may be upward facing or slightly nodding. The funnel-shaped, flowers with six petals can be crocus shaped, but may also open flat such as in Z.jonesii or even reflex slightly. The flowers of some species have a sweet, pleasant fragrance. Fragrance appears to be recessive in crosses, but there are a few species or hybrids, Z. drummondii (white), Z. morrisclintae (pink)and Z.jonesii (light yellow), that all carry the trait. At least 2 of these open their flowers at night and are attractive to nocturnal insects. The flowers typically last only for a day or two; but new flowers may appear in a succession of blooms, especially during humid or rainy weather. Various members of the genus may bloom spring only or repeat and continue into autumn, often a few days after rainstorms thus one of the common names, rainlilies. Periods of synchronous bloom, which breeders have dubbed 'blitzes', are part of their ornamental value, but also times breeders exploit for the purpose of producing new hybrids. (Marta 2005)
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