Zephyr Lily Growing, Benefits, Facts & Care (Zephyranthes candida)
Also known as rain lily, autumn zephyr lily, or fairy lily, zephyr lilies are native to South America and belong to the amaryllis family, Amaryllidaceae. The genus Zephyranthes is known as the rain lilies, so named because members of this family thrive on moisture and often bloom after mild summer rains.
This shouldn’t be surprising considering they hail from tropical to subtropical regions – originally South America, but have become somewhat naturalized in Australia, central and southern Asia, and portions of the southern United States.
With delicately beautiful white-pink blooms, it’s no wonder why this flower is sometimes referred to as a fairy lily. Its genus name is of Greek origin; Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind (also known as the god of spring flowers), and “anthos” translates to “flower.” This directly translates to “flowers of the west wind,” denoting their native habitat in the western hemisphere and the way that their elegant flowers, balanced atop slim stems, seem to dance in the wind. “Candida” translates approximately to shining white, in reference to the way that zephyr lilies often appear to take on a silvery gleam in the sunlight.
Facts, Benefits & Uses of Zephyr Lily
Zephyr lilies, and all rain lilies for that matter, are quite resistant to pests. This is due to the presence of toxic alkaloids in all parts of the plant, which deter herbivory. Snails and slugs may benefit from feeding on the leaves, but rarely do so enough to damage the plants. Rain lilies are also immune to root rot, as the toxic alkaloids discourage microbial activity.
However, the beautiful, vibrant flowers attract all manner of pollinators, making this both a pretty and useful flower for your pond or garden. In nature, they are most often found along rivers and wetlands where there is ample moisture and a mixture of sun and dappled shade. Butterflies, moths, bees, flies, and even small bats and birds have all been known to visit the shimmery, sweet flowers.
Zephyr Lily Growth, Hardiness & Climate
Zephyr lilies are most often grown from bulbs, and are able to form thick, vivid green clumps of leaves within a month or two of planting. By late spring, they’re often around half a foot tall, and may even begin flowering if conditions are warm and damp enough. But mid-summer, their full height should be achieved, which is typically between 6 and 12 inches. Each clump can produce half a dozen flowers at a time, with each flower lasting for days. Re-flowering will occur for months until autumn when temperatures cool.
Their native climate is subtropical to tropical, as fairy lilies originally hail from South America, specifically along the Rio de la Plata River in the Platine region. This river’s name translates to “river of silver” or “silver river,” and is so named for the zephyr lilies found all along its banks.
As might be expected from a plant found along the rivers of South America, zephyr lilies prefer climates from zones 7 through 11, moist soil, and dappled (ideally not full/direct) sunlight. They can do well in full sun, though, so long as they have ample rain or other moisture (they do not do well in dry heat or intense sun).
These small lilies are not overbearing in their growth, but by mid to late summer they will burst into a flurry of growth. During this time, they bloom almost constantly and spread to produce more small clumps of zephyrs, which in turn bloom readily without any assistant.
How to Plant Zephyr Lily In Ponds
If you choose to plant zephyr lilies from seed, push the seeds just below the soil’s surface. Planting from bulbs, however, tends to be easier and faster. If you opt for the latter, plant the bulbs about 1 inch beneath the soil’s surface. It’s best to plant these along the edges of your pond so that their feet can be wet but their ankles dry, so to speak, though as mentioned above fairy lilies are not prone to root rot. They can also be planted in ponds on a shelf at the water’s surface, not below it.
Bulbs should be planted in fall or winter, and they will emerge on their own in the spring. Otherwise, you can simply obtain plant divisions from large clumps or mature plants from a nursery and plant them in the spring, ideally in April or May when there is little danger of frost. Whether planted from seed or bulbs, make sure each plant is at least 3 inches apart to allow for healthy growth and spread.
Just about any soil type works for them, so long as the pH is neutral to mildly acidic, and moist but well-draining. Even poor sandy soils can support them, but it’s recommended to add a bit of humus or compost for nutrients and better moisture retention. They do not have to be planted by water, but if planted more inland do make sure that the soils are those that have good drainage and that you water the zephyrs regularly.
You will want to research whether or not this plant is native or legal in your area. If it’s not native but is legal to have (such as in the Midwestern US), plant them in pots to help control their spread, and make sure to remove any fading blooms to prevent seeding and spread into natural areas. Non-native species, even ones as pretty and small as zephyr lilies, can wreak havoc on natural ecosystems and disrupt natural processes.
How to Care For Zephyr Lily
Once established, zephyr lilies are incredibly low-maintenance. Unless planted in poor soils, as mentioned above, they won’t need fertilizer, and just enough water to prevent the soil from completely drying out. You’ll see the most flowers if you leave plant clumps undisturbed – try not to dig them up and transplant them unless absolutely necessary.
Fairy lilies spread seeds profusely, so if you’d like to prevent this from happening you’ll need to prune the flowers as soon as they start to fade and dispose of them. There’s no need to prune or remove foliage otherwise. As always, clean any dropped foliage from your pond to encourage healthy water quality.
How to Winter Zephyr Lily
Zephyr lilies are able to tolerate a few nights of frost, but this isn’t ideal. They’re not winter hardy, so you’ll need to bring the plants indoors for the winter. If you live in an area where winter temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-17° C), the bulbs will need to be dug up and stored indoors.
Store plants and bulbs between 40 and 50° F (4.5 – 10° C) so that they can properly enter a dormant period. If you’d like the plants to continue flowering indoors, keep them in a warm room with partial light. Do not water often – allow soils to dry out. Do not water bulbs at all.
Is Zephyr Lily Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?
Zephyranthes candida is technically only native to portions of South America, although it has become naturalized in portions of Asia, Australia, and the south-eastern US. Though there is very little data on zephyr lilies being totally classified as invasive outside of these ranges, it is best to do your part to help prevent their spread into natural areas.
All parts of zephyr lilies are mildly toxic, to humans as well as pets. This is useful for deterring herbivory from deer and rabbits, but not so great if you have a curious cat, dog, or child.
Specifically, rain lilies of all species contain the toxic alkaloids lycorine, nerinine, haemanthamine, and tazettine. Interestingly enough, when dosed properly the 70-some alkaloids found in members of Zephyranthes have been used to treat things from fungal infections to cancer due to their strong antifungal, antibacterial, and cytotoxic properties. For this reason, rain lilies are considered to be species of significant pharmacological importance and further research is being conducted on them.
Is Zephyr Lily Edible? Will Fish Eat it?
Zephyr lily is not edible, as all parts are toxic. The toxicity level is considered low, but caution should still be used. Your fish are very unlikely to try eating this plant, as they seem to emit some form of chemical signal that notifies things around, “hey, don’t eat me. I’ll make you sick.” This is why you won’t catch deer or most other wild animals trying to nibble on them.
Do take care to have these plants placed either outside of your pond or on a shelf where your fish cannot get to them, just in case. In addition, keep any dropped or pruned foliage cleaned up so that your fish are less likely to be tempted to try munching on in.
Where to Buy Zephyr Lily & Seeds? (UK & US)
Fairy lilies can be readily found at most garden centers and plant nurseries and greenhouses. Otherwise, a large number of online retailers sell it. Online, it can be found in the US as cheap as $5 for 10 plants and up, or as low as 3 pounds in the UK, making it an easy plant to obtain or, if necessary, replace.