Belle of the Wetland: Atamasco Lily

Atamasco Lilies

The picture speaks for itself, don’t you think? This native wildflower, commonly known as Atamasco Lily or Wild Easter Lily (Zephranthes atamasco) flourishes in my soggy wetland, and is nearing peak bloom as I type.

Ace photographer and Wonder Spouse took this shot for me, because my less-expensive camera just couldn’t do justice to these beauties.  If you take the time to click on the above photo to enlarge it, you’ll be better able to see the details that make this flower so gorgeous. Note the two flower buds swollen like balloons as they prepare to unfurl their petals. And see the smaller buds, pink-tinged, waiting their turns to shine?

This wildflower — growing without any help from me in a mucky wetland — mixes with the Cinnamon Ferns and Jack-in-the-Pulpits like they’re mingling at a party. Wow is an understatement.

The distinctive leaves of these lilies make them a snap to spot even when they’re not blooming. They are flat and very shiny — easy to distinguish from the abundant grasses and sedges that share the wetland. My references tell me the leaves and bulbs are highly poisonous, which would explain why the deer don’t graze on them — not even the flower buds.

Flowers are six-petaled and quite delicate. Here’s a close-up of a flower that Wonder Spouse took. If you click to enlarge it, you may spot the mosquito loitering on a lower right petal.

Atamasco Lily Close-up

Flower stems (called scapes) grow 8 to 10 inches tall and usually bear single flowers. Because they tend to bloom around Easter, residents of the southeastern Piedmont and Coastal Plain — where these lilies are native — have a tradition of picking the flowers to celebrate the holiday, proclaiming them to be Wild Easter Lilies.

My references say that these lilies will adapt to standard garden beds, as long as the soil is high in organic material, and even moisture levels are maintained. They need a few hours of sun to ensure good blossom production.

However, in my opinion, Atamasco Lilies belong in our naturally occuring swampy spots — and maybe rain gardens — places where they can achieve maximum vigor — and where they can take their rightful places as the belles of our late springtime wetlands.

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  1. Wetland Preacher: Jack-in-the-Pulpit « Piedmont Gardener
  2. A Look Back « Piedmont Gardener
  3. Flowers come and (mostly) gone « Piedmont Gardener
  4. Current Bloomers « Piedmont Gardener

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